Friday, May 24, 2013

'Hangover III' roofies itself, forgets to add jokes

Posted By on Fri, May 24, 2013 at 10:42 AM

MIRROR MIRROR: Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong
Perhaps the cleverest gag connected to The Hangover Part III doesn't actually appear in the movie. One of the posters for the dark comedy presents close-up profiles of Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong in deliberate parody of the Harry Potter vs. Voldemort faceoff for Deathly Hallows Part 2. The poster, like most of the jokes in The Hangover Part III itself, trades on the incongruity of physically unimpressive Galifianakis and Jeong cast as action-movie adversaries in the midst of overblown Hollywood spectacle.

Laughs prove almost purposefully lacking in The Hangover Part III, but it's not because the jokes fail, so much as they scarcely exist. The previous chapters in the trilogy skirted as close as possible to film noir conventions as a group of friends, nicknamed "The Wolfpack," retraced their lost memories following a night of unspeakable decadence. The second film replicated the same premise and comic set-ups as the original, only transplanted from Las Vegas to Bangkok. For Part III, director/co-writer Todd Phillips responds to criticism of the previous film by dispensing with the drug-induced blackouts to deliver a crime flick with occasional sight gags and pratfalls.

Galifianakis' pervy man-child Alan exhibits even more erratic behavior than normal, until his family and friends stage an intervention. The Wolfpack (including Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and perpetual also-ran Justin Bartha) reunites to drive Alan to an Arizona mental facility. Unfortunately they're run off the road and kidnapped by pig-masked goons, who deliver them to a blustering mob boss named Marshall (John Goodman).

The gangster reveals that Mr. Chow (Jeong), the loose-cannon crook from the previous films, has stolen a fortune in gold bars from Marshall and then disappeared. The only clue to Chow's whereabouts lies with Alan, who ignores the other man's addictions to sex, drugs and violence to be on-line pen pals. Marshall takes one of the Wolfpack hostage and order the rest to find Chow, despite their lack of qualifications for high-risk detective work.

The Hangover Part III sends its hapless threesome to the most famous party-hearty cities of Mexico and Nevada for elaborate break-ins of a lavish villa and a famous casino's luxury suite. Phillips crafts huge, memorable set-pieces, including the slow-motion prison riot that opens the film and a parachute chase through the Las Vegas strip. The plot generates no shortage of momentum and we're always curious to see how these middle-class guys will deal with outrageous problems. Overall, the film feels more like Phillips' audition reel to direct Mission Impossible V than an actual comedy.

One of the highlights of the original film was Helms' increasingly frantic performance as a dentist flabbergasted at his own appetite for debauchery. Here, he and Cooper simply play put-upon straight men to Galifianakis and Jeong, two extremely funny guys unfairly burdened with mining laughs from the underwritten script.

The film offers up some memorable moments, like Chow mangling Trent Reznor's "Hurt" with his thick accent, or Alan trapped on the face of a building like a 21st century Harold Lloyd. Eventually the audience feels like saying "Yes, those two certainly engage in weird, inappropriate behavior. Is that all you've got, Hangover III?" It certainly overestimates our nostalgia for roles like Heather Graham's friendly prostitute.

The film offers a through-line of Alan resisting pressure to become a responsible adult, which sets up by far the movie's best scene: Alan discovers unlikely sexual chemistry with a gruff woman at a pawn shop (reliable scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy), and for a while, the film feels passionate rather than perfunctory. Maybe the biggest laugh comes during a closing-credit sequence, which harks back to the uproarious humor of the first installment. The Hangover Part III simply confirms the message of the previous film: some movies just can't support sequels, and the efforts are better left forgotten.

The Hangover Part III. 2 stars. Directed by Todd Phillips. Stars Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong. Rated R. Opens Fri., May 24. At area theaters.

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