Film of the Week: The Hangover Part III (15A, general release, 100 minutes) **
Director: Todd Phillips. Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong.
Call them crass, dismiss them as moronic and hopelessly misogynistic, but Todd Phillips' Hangover films now rank among the most successful comedies ever made. The first two made over a billion dollars between them, an unheard of achievement in the genre, so it's little wonder that Phillips, Bradley Cooper and the rest of the Hangover regulars have reunited to make this third instalment that we're reliably informed will kill off the franchise for good. Let's hope so.
It's been two years since The Hangover Part II, a film so vulgar and repellent it still makes me queasy when I think about it, and the self-styled ‘wolfpack' who caused so much trouble in Las Vegas and Bangkok have moved on with their lives — except for Alan.
Zach Galifianakis' mentally unstable hedonist was pitched as the John Belushi-style wildcard agent of destruction in the series, a ploy that worked well in the first film but went horribly wrong in Hangover II, when Alan, left stranded without a single decent joke, was revealed as a whining, histrionic bore.
In Hangover III, he recovers something of his impish aplomb when he stops taking his medication and goes spectacularly off the rails. With his mood plunging and soaring wildly, Alan decides that the item he desperately needs is a giraffe, and we first glimpse him gliding along the highway towing one of them on a trailer behind his sports car. After the poor beast is beheaded by a low bridge and Alan's poor father Sid (Jeffrey
Tambor) dies of shock, his friends and family decide to stage an intervention.
Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) agree to accompany Alan to a
mental institution in Arizona where his problems can finally be resolved, but in Hangover films no journey ever goes smoothly. The boys are coasting south when their car is run off the road by a truck and they're abducted by a burly gangster called Marshall (John Goodman).
Marshall has a bone to pick with them, and in a rather convoluted backtrack into the earlier films we discover that Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who's currently in prison in Bangkok, stole $21m in gold from Marshall and hid it before he was captured. The only person he contacted while in prison was Alan. Now he's escaped and Marshall thinks the boys know where he is.
The long and the short of all that is that Stu, Ed and Alan are sent to find Chow and recover Marshall's gold, with poor old Doug being held captive as an incentive.
The Hangover Part III is a curiously sombre and sober affair compared with the other films, and apart from Chow, who seems to have a serious cocaine problem, I don't remember anyone having anything more than the odd beer. No one gets drunk or suffers chronic amnesia, and the morning-after messes that formed the heart of Hangovers I & II have no equivalent here.
Instead, we get some pratfall comedy, an unlikely love story, and Alan's painful journey towards some sort of psychological equilibrium. Most of the dick jokes are gone too, which is definitely to
be welcomed, and this film derives much of its humour from the
audience's familiarity with the characters.
Heather Graham makes a brief reappearance as Jade, the hooker with a heart of gold, who's hung up her thigh boots and is now married to a doctor.
And Melissa McCarthy steals the show playing a hard-nosed pawnshop owner with whom Alan falls in love.
Overall, in fact, Hangover III is a lot less irritating and offensive than Hangover II, but, while watching, I sometimes had to remind myself that it's a comedy. After some derisory slapstick during a burglary about halfway through, the laughs dry up altogether for long periods and Galifianakis's Alan transforms touchingly, but not very amusingly, into a tragic clown.