‘It all ends here.’ This memorable tagline has been sprawled across billboards everywhere recently, aping Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’s promotional campaign in a rather vast attempt to lend an air of epic grandeur to the final instalment of another blockbuster franchise. When it comes down to it, The Hangover: Part III has almost no right to exist, the third entry in a trilogy which arguably needn't have ever been continued past its première. The Hangover (5/5) redefined the comedy genre, while its follow-up Part II (4.5/5) managed to pull new tricks while sticking to its predecessor’s formula, so it was always going to be interesting yet somewhat worrying to discover just what director Todd Phillips had in store for the series’ crescendo.
The result, then? Part III turns out to be something of a ‘middle ground’ between a road trip comedy flick and surprisingly that of a heist jaunt as well. We’re thrust into a wildly different initial perspective on events by opening with a rediscovery of how Leslie Chow is doing in his prison escape, only to then be thrust back into familiarity with an intervention staged as resident man-child Alan’s post-medication antics cause a rather depressing event to occur. As has always been the case for the franchise’s narratives, for the Wolfpack things can never go according to plan, and sure enough faster than you can say “Carlos”, Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug are driven off the road into the desert, with the three leads tasked with finding Chow as Doug is taken hostage once more.
If all of that exposition seems rather more convoluted and layered than the simple premises the past two films provided viewers with, that’s because that is essentially the case here. For all its ambition, this third entry loses some of its franchise’s trademark humour in the transition to a more linear and action-fuelled storyline structure. There are one or two moments of innocent recalling of the chaos and hilarity that ensued in the original- one setpiece involving Chow parachuting above Las Vegas while stoned is a memorable example- but these are often swiftly placed to the sidelines in favour of accessible and slightly deeper storytelling. For some Summer blockbusters, the balance of comedy and action can be a positive and supplemental aspect which shows off an intelligent screenplay, yet for a franchise so renowned for its comedy as The Hangover to take such a divisive tonal swerve simply feels strange and out-of-character in a detrimental manner.
Perhaps if the main cast performances were suitably strong once again, I’d take less issue with Part III’s shortcomings. That it often felt as if many of the main cast weren't even that interested in returning for yet another ‘lost night’ (albeit with no proper hangover to be found until the post-credits sequence), then, doesn't do the production any favours whatsoever. Zach Galifinakas’ performance is unmistakably governed by a rather farcical depiction of his character in the script, while Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms’ characters feel like little more than afterthoughts in terms of character arcs when compared to Ken Jeong’s ever-increasing presence as the unhinged Chow. It’s a shame, particularly as even Jeong gets done a disservice this time around by having Chow taken too far on the road to insanity to ever truly reclaim the intense sense of comedy his character initially had in the 2009 original. Besides those leads, Justin Bartha (Doug), Heather Graham (Jade), Mike Epps (Black Doug) and John Goodman (Marshall) all provide virtually humourless turns thanks to the script offering them no opportunities to spark even a chuckle amongst the audience.
What’s ultimately most disappointing with regards to this flawed motion picture as a whole is that there are certainly strengths on offer here. Once again, Todd Phillips’ direction of events and their surroundings here is exceptional to say the least, and this writer/director clearly has reverence for the past franchise efforts as we get a couple of neat homages to Parts I and II throughout. The ending sequence also does the franchise proud for certain, so that’s a redeeming feature. Nevertheless, The Hangover: Part III seems to tremble under the weight of its franchise’s success, and the result is something which merely falls in the realm of satisfactory enjoyment for franchise fans, a far cry from the genre-defining piece of comic gold which adorned our screens a short four years ago.