The Hangover franchise exists to shock.
The tiger in the hotel room. The Mike Tyson tattoo applied to co-star Ed Helms’ face. The giraffe which meets a nasty end in the opening moments of The Hangover Part III.
Franchise director Todd Phillips and crew essentially depart from said formula once the poor creature’s head hits an overpass in the third, and presumably final, film in the series. What that leaves is solid bromantic exchanges, an increasingly complicated story and, of course, the insufferable comic stylings of Zach Galifianakis.
One’s tolerance for the latter hamming it up sans filter will dictate your fondness for the newest Hangover, which surpasses its sour predecessor but never approaches the zany greatness of the original.
Franchise man-child Alan (Galifianakis) still hasn’t grown up, and now he’s off his mandatory meds. So the “Wolfpack” reassembles for an intervention followed by a road trip to an Arizona treatment center.
That’s good enough reason to reunite the gang to put them into the usual array of misadventures. Sure enough, they’re quickly kidnapped and introduced to a thug (John Goodman) who wants revenge on Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) for stealing his gold. Goodman’s character assumes the Pack knows how to find Mr. Chow and kidnaps Doug (Justin Bartha, who once more is barred from the fun) to ensure they do.
It’s all an excuse to get the gang into a series of convoluted adventures, and at times it’s enough to justify the sequel’s existence. Try not to smile when Alan and Phil (Bradley Cooper) shimmy down a rope made of sheets onto the balcony of a Vegas hotel.
It’s still maddening to watch Galifianakis at play, or rather prey. The actor, clearly given more freedom these days thanks to the success of the franchise, makes Alan a sociopath of sorts, a character who will do virtually anything the screenwriters tell him to do to chase a laugh. And if it means alienating the audience or making the Wolf Pack bond feel as artificial as a Vegas Christmas tree, so be it.
The film also finds Alan throwing some odd flirtations Phil’s way. It’s either an attempt at shock comedy or another sign that desperation is now an integral part of any Hangover film. Far better is the connection between Alan and a pawn shop owner (Melissa McCarthy), a tiny scene which plays for medium-sized laughs based on sly gestures and oddly perfect chemistry.
Jeong’s Mr. Chow is given far too much screen time, careening between wacky best friend mode and cold-blooded killer. The talented scene stealer can’t make sense of it all, and neither can we. He also throws off an oddly timed anti-semitic joke which lands with an ominous thud.
The Hangover Part III, for all its modest pleasures, cannot bring the big laughs until the film’s closing credits. Once you see it, you’ll wonder why the franchise waited so long to remind us why we cared about these blackouts in the first place.