The Hangover trilogy ends with a whimper

The Wolfpack is back and largely defanged for The Hangover Part III.

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While not exactly a classic, 2009’s The Hangover did provide a rude and crude comic jolt to that year’s summer movie season. Riding an original plot twist (the characters awake after a debauched night of Las Vegas partying and have to retrace their steps to find a missing comrade), fresh performances (particularly Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper, both relative newcomers at the time) and a “boys behaving badly” gestalt that widely appealed to the pussy-whipped masses, The Hangover raked in big bucks and ushered in a new wave of big-screen raunch. (See also: Bridesmaids.) The inevitable sequel, 2011’s The Hangover Part II, traded Sin City for Thailand, but repeated most of the schtick that made the original a success. Though another big ticket seller, I’ve yet to find anyone who will defend the flick as anything other than a turd.

Which brings me to The Hangover Part III, the supposed final chapter of the Wolfpack trilogy. (More on that in a second.) This time out, director Todd Phillips (Bittersweet Motel) dumps the awake-to-chaos structure of the first two films for a more traditional narrative that moves the boys from point A to B in standard fashion. The problem is that, in trying to play it straight, the movie often gets bogged down advancing the plot with action scenes (Chow skydiving, anyone?) when it should be hunting for belly laughs.

H3 opens with Alan (Galifianakis) on top of the world. He’s just bought a giraffe — because why not? — and is driving it home on the freeway when a low overpass knocks the creatures block off. Alan’s long-suffering father (Jeffrey Tambor) tries to talk some sense into his son, but Alan refuses to listen, eventually tuning out the world with some headphones as his dad keels over right behind him. At the funeral, Alan emphatically states he will never change, which leads to an intervention involving his family and his best pals, Phil (Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha). Alan will go to a rehab center, and his buds will drive him there.

Along the way, the boys are forced off the road by thugs working for Marshall (John Goodman), a heavy with unfinished business with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). Chow was last seen in a Thai prison, but he’s busted out and the drug dealer wants to find him. Marshall kidnaps Doug and gives the Wolfpack three days to bring him Chow or their friend takes a bullet to the head. It’s a passable setup, and allows the filmmakers to repeat the basic Hangover formula without actually repeating it. I’ll give them that.

Phil, Stu and Alan hit the hit the road for Tijuana, where they find Chow, and get into some Mexican adventures I’ll skip over before heading to Las Vegas for a climactic showdown with Chow and Marshall. The movie does a good job of incorporating key elements from past entries in the series, with Heather Graham popping up for an extended cameo, along with “Carlos,” the baby Alan carted around in the first film. The Ceasars Palace suite from The Hangover also re-appears, as do bit-players like Black Doug (Mike Epps). Fans will dig the many references.

The problem with Hangover III is that it’s just not all that hilarious. Oh, it has its moments. A scene featuring Melissa McCarthy as a pawn shop owner is solid gold, and some of the interplay between the characters is amusing, but there is nothing here that will elicit the cathartic gales of laughter that The Hangover provided. Chalk up the lack of laughs to the film’s absolute refusal to allow the boys to actually behave badly. (Chow gets to have all the fun — but the movie makes it clear that he’s fuckin’ nuts.) Other than Alan’s repeated abuse of the elderly (which is just kind of sad), these guys all seem like they’ve gone straight. (Phil even drives a mini van!) It’s a shame, really.

And then the credits roll and we get a short addendum that is every bit as hilarious as anything in the first two films. It made me remember why I liked the original Hangover so much in the first place. It also serves to set up Hangover IV. But isn’t this the last one? Let’s wait and check the grosses. If the Wolfpack scores again, I’m sure they’ll put this band back together. People love a good nostalgia tour, even if the music is nowhere near as powerful as the first time around.

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