Never tell the same joke three times over. Sketch show writers know (and rarely take heed of) the unwritten commandment that lightning can strike twice, never thrice. A fresh gag debuts to laughter, then impacts again to appease an appreciative anticipation of its reoccurrence. By the time the same spiel is wheeled out for the third time, the recipient is familiarised with the tired setup-payoff. Three, contrary to popular belief, is not the magic number. This may go some way to explaining the persisting failure of threequels, as audiences find themselves surprised at how unimpressed they’ve grown with a franchise’s reprisal of its native tropes.
Series director Todd Phillips realises the pitfall of repetition; he’s steered the Hangover franchise away from the catalysing booze cruises that facilitated the chaos of the previous two instalments, thus dispensing with the whimsical narrative cues that lay in their wake. Gone is the jigsaw-puzzle, backward-tracing arc of Parts I and II that permitted the scriptwriters free rein to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. In its place is a forward-moving trajectory following the Wolfpack’s attempts to track down their ‘friend’ Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) at the behest of gangster Marshall (John Goodman, wasted here), whose gold Chow stole many years ago. Marshall rams the boys off the highway, and then berates them with an overlong, expository lecture that serves to tie together arbitrary plot points from the first two films – just in case anyone has interest in documenting this trilogy’s mythology.
Whereas parts I and II revolved around a wedding, The Hangover Part III follows an adverse, morose tack by beginning with a funeral, continuing with an intervention and proceeding into rehab check-in for perpetual manchild Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis). Unlike the other two Wolfpack brothers – Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper) and Stu Price (Ed Helms), differentiated by their assertive and passive natures, respectively – Alan’s asinine persona won’t permit him to waltz into a marital engagement right from the off.
Phillips has surely saved the hardest task ‘til last, then, in setting Galifianakis’ Alan on the righteous path from solitary idiocy to marital bliss, and the subsequent gruelling task isn’t endured by the audience alone. Phil and Stu look at Alan with a mixture of confusion and disgust, as if questioning their very friendship with this man. The bearded bumble is another of those senseless characters – typically peripheral to most comedies, as with the first two films of this franchise – that commits random, ‘hilarious’ acts and spouts irrelevant statements like ‘turtles are blue’, expecting the audience to, by default, choke on their own throats with laughter. These eye-rolling archetypes are traditionally kept to the sidelines with good reason (exhaustion is crucial); in this case, and by process of elimination, Alan is brought to the fore as the main character, no respite stemming around his excruciatingly unfunny mishaps.
Cooper’s Phil isn’t much use, either. With Alan occupying the lead role, this former presence is relegated to scowling in the driver’s seat at the indignity of it all. His response of ‘Who cares about a fucking giraffe’ following the film’s opening bestial beheading, does little wonder for his likeability. Yes, in the first few minutes of The Hangover Part III, we’re treated to the decapitation of a giraffe. If that’s your sort of humour, you’ll positively squeal with delight at the tranquilisation of two dogs and a cocaine-addled chicken’s death by pillow smothering.
Humans die too, naturally. This one’s a noticeably darker take on the Hangover formula, partly due to the omission of a celebratory event, such as a wedding, that coerces booze and merriment. When things get a little heavy, however, Alan is ever on hand to say something aimless, like ‘my water bottle is an elephant’s tricycle’. Long-time fans will be perked up by the Wolfpack’s third-act locale shift from Mexico to Las Vegas, site of the first film’s pandemonium and a facile visual throwback in a film committed to casting off the template of its predecessors.
A lot has happened since the first Hangover was released in 2009. Bradley Cooper attained some serious acting chops and gained Oscar recognition for his role in Silver Linings Playbook. Ed Helms became the lead in NBC’s The Office, a series that has since had the good grace to bow out after years of depressingly stale writing. These two actors look inconvenienced to be involved in this film, Cooper especially; they have every right to be fatigued, as they’re effectively strung along as little more than familiar installations in a backdrop of the Galifianakis show.
Fittingly, this third instalment is the migraine-afflicted hangover to the first two films’ jubilant romping. Diminishing returns aptly apply for this metaphor; the party’s long been over, and the manchild Wolfpack feels it in the worst way. Dazed and confused they wander into the frame, wondering where they are, why they are, and what they did to deserve it.