Let's not mourn the sad, shabby demise of “The Hangover” franchise. It wasn't built to last. Director Todd Phillips took a funny concept – three numbskulls have to beat the clock or face dire consequences – and stopped challenging us about halfway through the 2009 original. Spectacle triumphed over the telling of jokes. “The Hangover Part III” concludes its shallow mission by begging us to accept its characters as having souls. Not only is the movie dispiriting, it's not that funny.
Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is reeling after the loss of his father (Jeffrey Tambor), prompting buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) to take him to rehab in Arizona. Unfortunately, a gangster named Marshall (John Goodman) interrupts the trip, demanding that they find their frequent cohort, crime lord Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong).
Chow has stolen $21 million in gold from Marshall, who thinks the Wolfpack has the best chance of finding him and the fortune. Marshall holds Doug as collateral, giving Stu, Alan, and Phil three days to trek from Tijuana to Las Vegas to corral the psychotic Chow.
“The Hangover Part III” is no different than the previous two entries, repeating the raucous, sexist exploits so passionlessly that the outrageousness now feels trademarked. On top of that, the utilitarian story stresses action scenes and plotting. That doesn't breed laughs, especially when Phillips closes off every funny avenue – at least the ones not involving disfiguring Helms again.
Goodman and Tambor – two terrific comedic actors – barely get anything to do. Melissa McCarthy gets cast as a way to humanize Alan when the best thing about him is his spaced-out view of the world. (Well, at least before Galifianakis decided to gradually turn the character into a raving lunatic.) These are minor flaws compared to Phillips' disingenuous treatment of Alan and his put-upon friends. Phillips has always used them as vehicles to get to the next round of stupidity-fueled hijinks. Now, he frames Alan as a tender soul, part of the crew we've grown to love. That's a galling request, considering Phillips never peddled sentiment before or even treated any of the characters (women, especially) as people.
While pushing this cuddly agenda, he gives Jeong, who works best in small doses, more screen time than ever. It makes sense: Jeong's weirdo intensity is easy for Phillips to understand and use until the joke curdles. The constant exposure to Jeong's fey, screeching Chow is like being forced to sniff cayenne pepper. Every other tic-free character is secondary to car chases or psychotic chickens or male genitalia or whatever shock tactic is masquerading as a joke. You pray for more of Cooper's biting narcissism because it's a sign that humans wrote the script and not the Fratbot 5000.
Sameness and laziness permeates “The Hangover Part III.” It's a comedy that you laugh at out of habit and expectation. And it comes with a scary realization: Comedies can be just as empty and money-grubbing as any other blockbuster. That makes Todd Phillips the Michael Bay of comedy. Dear God.
-To read more of Pete's cinematic musings, please visit http://whatpeteswatching.blogspotcom or follow him on Twitter, @PeteCroatto.