Setting aside the rampant sexism, broad racial caricatures, and unfunny Mike Tyson cameos, the most irksome thing about the Hangover films may be the gimmick that drives them. What could be less exciting and less cinematic than three hapless dudes spending an entire movie being told about the mischief they got into the night before? (No surprise that the photo montages during the end credits, which deliver a few glimpses of genuine naughtiness, earn the biggest laughs.) The best that can be said for the third, supposedly final chapter is that it jettisons the retracing-our-steps scenario of the 2009 original and its 2011 carbon-copy sequel. There is, in other words, no hangover in The Hangover Part III.
And yet a sense of creative dehydration still pervades. “I will never change,” declares Zach Galifianakis’ crazed man-child at his father’s funeral. The line feels like a mission statement, a permanent pledge from Todd Phillips, the franchise’s mastermind, to keep churning out frat-friendly lowbrow odysseys. In his latest, the mayhem commences with a road trip, as Bradley Cooper’s exasperated preppie, Ed Helms’ nervous dentist, and Justin Bartha’s incidental fourth wheel push an off-his-meds Galifianakis to a mental-health clinic. Their plans go south quickly when a bellowing kingpin (John Goodman) takes Bartha hostage, promising his safe return only on the condition that the “Wolfpack” tracks down series co-star Ken Jeong, who’s ripped Goodman off. Sending its trio of travelers to Tijuana and then on to more familiar stomping grounds, The Hangover Part III tweaks its predecessors’ formula only marginally. As usual, there aren’t so much jokes as zany setpieces: Jeong performing an atonal rendition of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt,” the boys dangling from a high building, a whole menagerie of animals—dogs, chickens, one unlucky giraffe—meeting ghastly ends. “Outrageous” remains a poor substitute for funny.
Perhaps aware that everyone involved is essentially going through the motions, Phillips amuses himself by spoofing action movies; the opening scene, in which Jeong escapes from the Bangkok slammer during a prison riot, is the most entertaining example. The actors, meanwhile, just look bored. Fresh off his revelatory turn in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper can’t even muster the asshole peevishness he brought to the last two installments. Helms, too, seems to be in pure check-cashing mode, summoning not a single hissy fit. (That’s perhaps a relief; his hysterical performance in Part II was a bit much.) Only Galifianakis, granted a love interest in Melissa McCarthy’s pawnshop owner, seems committed to the film’s cause. His shtick still works, even as seeing the character win over a lady—any lady—is about as believable as Phillips’ claims that this will be the last Hangover movie.