Bradley Cooper as Phil, left, Zach Galifianakis as Alan, center, and Ed Hlems as Stu in a scene from "The Hangover Part III."
The Wolfpack returns for one final, desperate ride.
And if The Hangover Part III is proof of anything, it’s that once was enough.
While a significant improvement over Part II — the lazy recycled plot of Part 1 but in the international setting of Thailand — the final installment in the series is handicapped by its overly familiar formula and its inability to shock audiences as, yet again, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) must save buddy Doug (Justin Bartha), who this time has been kidnapped by an angry mob boss named Marshall (John Goodman).
Marshall has a beef with the flamboyant criminal Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who stole $21 million in gold bars from him. Mr. Chow was locked up in a Thailand prison, but escaped and vanished with the gold, and Marshall knows the Wolfpack has ties to him. He gives them a few days to find and bring Mr. Chow to him or Doug is dead. Their latest adventures take them from Los Angeles, to Tijuana, and finally back to where everything started, Las Vegas.
“I told myself I would never come back,” Stu says spitefully of the Las Vegas Strip. “Someone needs to burn this place to the ground.”
The return to Las Vegas also allows cameos from Heather Graham as the stripper Jade, now married to a doctor and raising her no-longer infant son from the first Hangover, as well as Mike Epps as Black Doug, who is working for Marshall. Sylvania’s Oliver Cooper makes a funny appearance as a pharmacist assistant.
The original film garnered so much audience enthusiasm and laughs with its ability to surprise moviegoers, like finding a naked Mr. Chow locked in a car trunk. Four years later, male frontal nudity isn’t the laugh generator it once was, and so Todd Phillips, who directed all three Hangovers and co-wrote Parts II and III, moves beyond the male anatomy, and relies on a peculiar and offensive running gag involving the gruesome demise of animals (their deaths are seen and unseen).
It’s also apparent that Phillips has run out of directions to take these characters and their story. Everything about the film’s core plot is routine at this point, which is why Phillips attempts to shake up the story by focusing much of the movie’s attention on its two oddest characters: Alan and Mr. Chow.
Self-centered and thoroughly dysfunctional, Alan delivers the most-consistent early laughs in the film, including his thoughtless remarks during his father’s eulogy: “I can’t believe my Daddy is dead. I can think of so many people I’d rather have died first, like my mother.” Despite Alan’s considerable issues, there’s a grain of humanity to him, and the film affords him the opportunity to find his soul mate in an equally rude woman, a Las Vegas pawnshop owner named Cassie (a funny cameo from Melissa McCarthy, as she and Galifianakis engage in comedy one-upmanship).
With so much screen time, Alan could easily have become an insufferable presence, but Galifianakis plays the role in waves of comic crescendos and hasty retreats, and instinctively knowing when to pull back and let someone else have a laugh or two.
Mr. Chow, however, is a one-dimensional, coked-up gag that’s been expanded far beyond the character’s five minutes of effective screen time. Jeong’s appearance in The Hangover worked so well because it was unexpected and limited, but in this beefed-up role he’s been elevated to co-star status, and is allowed to roam through too much of the movie’s second half.
And while there are funny parts throughout the film, too much time is devoted to getting us through plot machinations and to those moments. Gone is the manic sensibility from the first film. Instead, it’s a pattern of moving from point to point, with a joke or two delivered at each stop.
The Hangover Part III is the encore to a concert that’s gone on too long: You know what’s coming and you can’t wait for it to end.
Contact Kirk Baird email@example.com or 419-724-6734.