Remember how The Hangover Part II was a lukewarm rehash of The Hangover, almost beat-for-beat the same story, with little originality? Todd Phillips evidently heard our complaints and has addressed them in The Hangover Part III, which is nothing like the first two and features no hangovers. It is barely a comedy. Heck, it's barely a movie.
Our focus this time is Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the Kramer of the series, a man-child who is mentally unwell and perhaps mentally handicapped. His behavior has gotten more erratic lately, so his family and friends -- including the Wolf Pack, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) -- gather to stage an intervention and send him to a rehab facility. What it is they are "intervening" in, and what addiction they hope rehab will cure him of, I don't know. Perhaps Alan's greatest problem is that his loved ones have a fundamental misunderstanding of what his problems are.
In any event, while road-tripping to the rehab clinic, the four guys are waylaid by Marshall (John Goodman), a ruthless crime lord demanding their assistance in tracking down the evil and insane Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who stole from him. Marshall holds Doug as collateral and sends the other three out to find Chow. Mayhem ensues.
Aside from Justin Bartha being immediately written out of the story (a Hangover tradition), this scenario is a radical departure from the simple-yet-brilliant setup of the first movie, which had the hungover men retracing their steps after a night of dimly recalled debauchery. The sequel followed the same formula, which was fine, but did it lazily, which wasn't. Do it the same or do it different, we don't care. Just do it well.
Part 3, co-written by Phillips and Craig Mazin, goes in a different direction, and in the process loses the thread altogether. The "hook" is gone. Instead of suffering the hilarious consequences of deeds they don't remember committing, and continuing to stumble into outrageous and filthy situations, the Wolf Pack has a mission to accomplish. The mission itself isn't funny or depraved, and nobody's hungover or otherwise operating at less than full capacity. Stu and Phil are normal guys, not amusing characters. (I've seen three of these things now and I still couldn't tell you anything about Phil's personality.) That leaves Alan as the primary source of comedy, with assistance from Chow. It isn't enough.
That being said, Galifianakis' performance as Alan is almost sublime in its weird, Galifianakis sort of way. Except for being saddled with some wrongheaded "dramatic" character moments that don't work on any level, Galifianakis is a peculiar ball of energetic eccentricity. The relatively few laughs the movie does have are mostly his doing. They're mostly in the first half-hour, too, before the theme of Alan Being Weird in Various Ways wears thin. (Another crutch that the film leans on far too often: animal deaths.)
For a Hangover film, this one is shockingly tame, with an equally shocking emphasis on plot and action over gags. There are stretches where the film isn't even trying to be funny, let alone succeeding -- but it isn't good as an action-oriented comedy, either. Busy and frantic, yes. Just not in a way that makes you laugh. This represents a grave misapprehension of our feelings toward the Wolf Pack. I can't speak for everyone, but for myself, I have no interest in joining these guys on a journey that ultimately leads to their redemption. They aren't the sort of characters whom viewers empathize with or relate to. They're the sort of characters who make us laugh when crazy things happen to them. That's what we're here for, not this baloney about Alan finding his place in the world. Where's a Thai ladyboy when you need one?
The Hangover Part III opens wide in theatres across North America on Thursday, May 23.