The Hangover Part III (2013)

Posted on November 20, 2013

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I’m falling a little behind in my posts, so I thought I would write about a movie that pissed me off. All that emotion energizes me, and sometimes makes for good posts.

For those of you not paying attention since 2009, The Hangover Part III is about Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), and Doug (Justin Bartha). In every movie, they get drunk, “accidentally” take some drugs, blackout, and then have to deal with the consequences of their debauchery.

This time, the guys are taking Alan to an clinic as an intervention. It seems Alan stopped taking his meds, and has been behaving…well…that’s where the story problems start.

On the way, Marshall (John Goodman, woefully under-used) ambushes them. He kidnaps Doug, and demands that the Wolfpack deliver Lesley Chow (Ken Jeong) to him…and he put some time limit on it that’s supposed to limit the action to the timespan of the other movies but is actually meaningless.

Short Version

So formulaic that you could set your watch by it.

Long Version

I didn’t review the first movie, but I loved it. I reviewed the second movie here. A few points that I made then are worth revisiting now.

First, the title. As with the second movie, this is not Part III. It is not a continuation of the previous stories. It is a continuation of the characters, so it’s The Hangover III, not Part III.

Second, I totally called the trip to Tijuana in my outline for what the second movie should have been.

These movies have a very cliched morality. It’s not just that overindulging in alcohol is bad, it’s that drugs are bad. Alan is bad because he’s a drug abuser. All his behavioral issues are drug-related, and everything that happens is supposed to be his fault – according to the movies.

In this movie, everything actually is his fault. It’s his fault for staying in touch with Chow. It’s his fault that he lies about knowing where Chow is. It’s his fault for trusting Chow. Drugs have nothing to do with it. The whole conflict between Marshall and Chow is about money, not drugs.

The problem is that we don’t care.

The writers and director need to stop blaming Alan. Yes, he drugged his friends in the first two movies. The first time, shame on him. The second time, what did they expect? Alan has never changed. You took the same guy into a very similar situation and yet you are shocked that he behaved exactly the same way (albeit for a different reason)? Then you are idiots, and I have a hard time caring about what happens to you.

In fact, that’s a major difference between the first movie and the other two. In the first movie, everything was a shock to Stu, Phil, and Doug. We could sympathize with them as ordinary people thrown into a mystifying situation by Alan, the enfant terrible.

In the next two movies, the guys continue to trust Alan, and he continues to be himself. In his world, overindulgence in various chemicals is just normal. He is delighted when “it” happens again. Because the guys were stupid for expecting Alan to be someone he clearly isn’t, we don’t care as much as we did the first time. So the movies have to go further and be more outrageous to generate an emotional response in the audience.

The beginning of The Hangover Part III starts out working. The whole intervention idea seems like someone is finally seeing Alan for who and what he is, and forcing him to take responsibility for the impact his decisions have on others.

When Phil is reluctant to participate in the intervention, that kind of works, too. I’ve been saying for two years now that Phil is the problem, not Alan.

Remember what I said about cliched morality? In these movies, drugs are the problem. That’s simplistic and cliched. Drugs let what’s inside you come out. Drugs amplify what’s already inside you. They don’t create a new version of you out of nothing.

If you can stomach it, watch the credits of the movies again. Who’s instigating all the over-the-top behavior? Phil. Every time. Phil throws the first punch, Phil encourages facial tattoos and head shavings. Phil things stealing a tiger is a good idea. Phil leads them into Bangkok strip clubs.

So Phil’s reluctance seems like an acknowledgement of his responsibility for the madness that ensues whenever the Wolfpack gets together. Except that never develops into anything, so it’s just Phil being selfish and self-centered, and only wanting to do things that he enjoys.

Now, I don’t want to let Alan completely off the hook. He is an immature drug-abuser. He is irresponsible, and a danger to himself and others. Acknowledging that would help ground the films and contrast with the outrageous bits, making the latter funnier. Alan needs to learn how to grow up.

However, this movie clearly wants to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, Alan needs help. On the other hand, Alan has always needed help. His behavior doesn’t change off his meds. It doesn’t change after his father dies. Why the intervention now? This movie doesn’t say.

For a few minutes, late in the movie, it seems like Alan might have learned a lesson. When he meets Cassie (Melissa McCarthy) in a Las Vegas pawn shop, it looks like he might have met someone who makes him want to be a better person. The trouble is that Alan has no idea how to be that better person, and Cassie lacks the backbone to show him.

Still, Alan agrees that Chow is not their friend and they shouldn’t see each other any more. It seems like a moment of growth…until it happens again at Alan’s wedding reception, and they wake up the next day to full-frontal nudity Chow.

There is nothing sympathetic about Lesley Chow. He is an amoral, disloyal, self-destructive international criminal. We’ve had two movies to dislike Chow. I get that you hire an actor of John Goodman’s caliber to maximize the little amount of screen time he gets.

That said, Marshall does not outclass Chow. In fact, his cold-blooded professionalism, while ruthless, comes off as a welcome change from Chow’s manic cruelty. I wanted the guys to turn Chow over to Marshall, and get on with their lives.

I want to be clear that I don’t blame Ken Jeong. He’s playing a character, and doing it well. It’s not his fault that Chow is the way he is.

I guess part of my problem with Chow is that I have no idea why he is such good friends with the Wolfpack. In the first movie, he was their enemy. In the second movie, he was part of the situation that created the blackout, and then he wasn’t around too much. It was clear when he was around that he really enjoyed himself the night before, but that was it. It’s not clear at all why, by the third movie, he and Alan are best buddies and the guys feel bad about treating him the way he treats them.

I’ve focused entirely on character reasons why this movie didn’t work. It’s not that it just didn’t work for me, it’s that it is bad. It got made because the previous two movies made money, and not because there was something new or original to say.

Fortunately, it lost money so we won’t have to put it up with anymore.

Conclusion

So:

  • This movie fails because all the characters who are not Alan are surprised (again) that Alan is Alan.
  • This movie fails because it does not show us why Alan needs an intervention now.
  • This movie fails because Lesley Chow’s continuing presence in the life of the Wolfpack is unexplained.
  • This movie fails because Lesley Chow is unsympathetic.
  • This movie fails because it hasn’t got the guts to let characters change and grow, even though it’s the “epic conclusion” to an accidental trilogy.

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Posted in: Movies