No one expected it to do so well. After all, it was a crude, gross out comedy in a cinematic sea overflowing with same. It starred a few relatively successful actors and one unknown comic and the premise sounded like the Tom Hanks vehicle Bachelor Party on roofies. Then The Hangover hit theaters and a mini-phenomenon occurred. It became a smash, gave surreal stand-up Zack Galifianakis a stab at superstardom, and turned Todd Phillips into the go-to guy for boorish, laugh-out-loud mayhem. Now, after a sequel which many thought was just more of the same, the gang is back for the “final chapter” in the “Wolfpack Trilogy” and while The Hangover III has its issues, it’s also a relatively satisfying way to say goodbye — at least, for now.
The set-up sees chief crazy person Alan Garner (Galifianakis) off his meds and acting up. When his father (Jeffrey Tambor) dies unexpectedly, his family decides it’s time for an intervention. Hoping to rope pals Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper) and Dr. Stuart Price (Ed Helms) into helping, brother-in-law Doug (Justin Bartha) offers Alan a trip to a “rehab” center. Naturally, he will only go if the rest of the Wolfpack accompanies him.
As they head off to Arizona, they are ambushed by Black Doug (Michael Epps, from the first film) who works for a mobster named Marshall (John Goodman). The baddie wants our heroes to hunt down the elusive Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong). Seems he stole $21 million from Marshall and he wants it back. Taking Doug as collateral, our trio now heads out to find the coked-up criminal. Somehow, all roads lead back to Vegas, with a stopover in Tijuana.
It needs to be said right up front that The Hangover III is a clever comment on that age old adage of being careful what you wish for. Everyone who wanted to see something different involving these characters have gotten their devious little heart’s desire — and then some. Phillips, clearly feeling the wrath of those who thought Part II‘s repetition was absurd, has tossed out everything that made the first two films successful (scatology, post-drunken detective work, a wide array of insane setups and situations) and, instead, has crafted an engaging and sometimes sidesplitting crime film. That’s right, The Hangover III is about finding Chow, uncovering the whereabouts of his millions in stolen gold, and getting back to Goodman before he blows Doug’s head off. There’s no surprise celebrity cameo, no bodily disservice done to Stu.
Instead, the director replaces the ridiculousness with swatches of emotion and heart. He understands that most of us adore these guys, so he focuses on the most misguided — Alan — and gives him a character arc which humanizes him in hilarious fashion. This is really a Galifianakis starring vehicle; Cooper and Helms often left completely out of the havoc. While the overconcentration on Chow (a little of Jeong’s fey Asian goes a really long way) gets tedious, the talented comedian really excels. He takes his oddball line readings and deadpan gesturing and elevates them to art.
Of course, this also means that The Hangover III is relatively inconsistent. When Alan is onscreen, it cooks. When he’s not, or when he’s part of the pack, there’s a lot less electricity. Phillips has found a way to close this chapter of the series. With what is offered during the credits, however, one doubts this franchise is finished for good.