Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: "The Hangover Part III"

After the raunchy brilliance of "The Hangover" in 2009 came the inevitable sequel two years later, which like most second comings was a major letdown. The cast and crew essentially aped the first movie, with our maturity-challenged "Wolf Pack" of 40-ish dudes waking up after a night of debauchery, and attempting to reconstruct the events of which they had no memory.

It had its moments, but the novel premise was no longer fresh, and the jokes just didn't hit like the first time around.

"The Hangover Part III" falls somewhere in the middle of the two, funny enough to recommend but lacking the frisson of the original. It also abandons the flashback storytelling gimmick of the first two films, opting for a straight-ahead narrative. Instead of creating new mischief while on a bender, they're soberly dealing with the consequences of their previous (mis)adventures.

That's all well and good, and it was probably the right move to make the third (and, by all accounts, final) movie stand out from the rest. But I feel compelled to point out that we're watching a movie with "Hangover" in the title during which no one experiences a hangover.

Until, that is ... well, I don't want to spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say, I highly advise you to keep your fanny parked in your seat when the credits roll.

Zach Galifianakis, who made such an oddball sidekick in the first movie, is now pretty much the center of the show. As delusionally obtuse man-boy Alan, Galifianakis has created an enduring comic character, a man who is somehow innocent and yet repulsive at the same time.

Alan is the sort of guy who can meet a woman (a nice cameo by Melissa McCarthy) seemingly as mucked up as he is, initiate the beginnings of a romance, and then pull down his pants, coyly informing her that he "saw it in a pornography" -- and yet still come across as dimly sweet.

All the other characters pretty much react to what Alan's doing, including smoother operator-turned minivan-driving schlep Phil (Bradley Cooper) and uptight dentist Stu (Ed Helms). Alan even seems to command our attention when he shares the screen with Leslie Chow -- the certifiably insane, cocaine-snorting, generic Asian accent-spouting, wild-partying criminal played by Ken Jeong.

Spoiler alert: I can confirm that Jeong's penis returns for a third outing ... if you're patient.

The set-up is the guys are driving Alan, who's depressed and off his meds after his father's death, to a detox center in Arizona when they're kidnapped by a homicidal gangster named Marshall (John Goodman). It seems Chow stole $21 million in gold bars from him with the Wolf Pack's unwitting help, so he wants them to get it back for him. As insurance, Marshall kidnaps their friend Doug, once again giving Justin Bartha a reason to disappear for most of the movie (which is probably just as well).

The rest of the flick plays out as a series of chases and double-crosses, as the guys quickly track down Chow but have difficulty keeping their hands on him. Alan, who had secretly been exchanging letters and emails with Chow while he was in a Bangkok prison, incorrectly sees it as rescuing Chow rather than capturing him.

There's a few clever bits, including a neat reversal at a Mexican villa, and of course the action ends up in Las Vegas, the beginning of all their troubles.

There are no celebrity appearances a la Mike Tyson like last time around, though the hi jinks are intermittently funny and occasionally hilarious.

"The Hangover Part III" pales in comparison to the first film, but it feels less cynical and rote than the middle one. It's a fun outing, with enough laughs to remind us why we liked the first movie so much.

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