If you were to as me to come up with a list of the worst sequels of all time, The Hangover Part II would be a lock to make that list. While the original showed a great deal of cleverness within its misanthropy and bro-styled humour, the sequel was almost the dictionary definition of both lazy and ugly filmmaking. Maybe it was the considerably lowered expectations following a film that I outright despise, but while the finale to the (inexplicable) Hangover trilogy is definitely imperfect in many ways, there’s a decent amount of things to commend. The biggest being that it’s not a beat-for-beat rehash of the first film in a new location, and that gets Todd Phillips’ latest further than one might expect.
There’s no drunken bacchanalia that gets the ball rolling in this one. In fact, it all gets started with an attempted intervention for oddball Alan (Zach Galifianakis), who has been off his meds for far too long and has begun to worry his closest friends and family. Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) embark on a road trip to take Alan to get help in Arizona, but are cut off by criminal mastermind Marshall (John Goodman). It seems the wolfpack’s old friend Chow (Ken Jeong) ripped off a ton of gold from him before fleeing to Thailand, and now that he’s escaped from prison it seems that Alan might be the only link Marshall has to finding him. Marshall kidnaps Doug and forces the “three best friends that anybody could have” to find Chow in a trip that takes them to Tijuana and back to Vegas while forcing them to confront the errors of their past ways.
The tone here is considerably darker, but not like how the second film simply amped up the ugliness and hatefulness that underlined the first film. In fact, most of what happens in this entry isn’t that funny, nor is it intended to be. The tone is almost disarmingly melancholic overall. While the other films offered “fun” this one is openly asking for sympathy for these guys while they try to get their lives in order. It’s an interesting thing to think about, but not entirely successful because people who have seen the first two films know that with the exception of possibly Stu and Doug at times, none of them are really good people at all. The stab at sincerity is a nice touch overall, but it rings completely false.
Phillips directs this one in largely the same fashion as he created Hangover II, which is to say that it doesn’t really look like a bright and colourful comedy. He seems to have grown tired of doing the same kind of film over and over again, and he jumps at the chance to ground this one more so in reality than over the top grotesquery and screwball antics. Like many black comedies, outside of some obvious moments in karaoke bars and dangling from the roof of Caesar’s Palace, it’s hard to tell where the humour should be coming from. The emphasis on subverting audience expectations are noteworthy, but he can’t quite follow through on it, and a lot of that might just be boredom with having to make a third film in the first place. His script with Hangover II and Identity Thief screenwriter Craig Mazin is surprisingly lighter on the one-liners that one might expect, but there’s still something missing at the heart of this story. Namely the whole heart.
The cast seems to be relishing the chance to not be doing gross out gags over and over again for 100 minutes. Cooper and Helms seems to shrug it off and have the least to do here, but at least Phil is considerably less of a homophobic blowhard and Stu isn’t getting chronically embarrassed and degraded for being a nice guy. Galifianakis takes centre stage for most of this one, and he succeeds in giving Alan the character arc he’s needed for two movies now. It feels like a whole performance rather than scene stealing. That task is left to the now bumped to above the title billing Jeong who throws himself into his final go as Chow with reckless abandon and a sadness that breaks through the wisecracks towards the end. Goodman, on the other hand, is completely wasted in a threadbare villain role that showcases the character’s bloodthirsty nature without making him threatening, funny, or sympathetic. Some brief support comes in the form of a cameoing Melissa McCarthy as a Vegas strip pawnbroker that Alan develops a crush on.
The biggest problem with The Hangover franchise as a whole was that it never should have gone beyond the first film, and even if it did they shouldn’t have churned out the second one as fast as they did. The Hangover Part III definitely feels like more of a sequel to the original than the glorified remake that followed it. Even so, there’s not too much that this film offers aside from passing interest to kill 100 minutes without ever really going anywhere. It’s biggest asset might be the sense of finality it ends on (minus a stinger in the credits that feels curiously tacked on at the last second for people who liked the shenanigans of the first pair of flicks). For better or worse, this franchise is over and the talented people behind it can finally move on to different things.