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Daring to be Different, “The Hangover Part III” is an Entertaining Finale

May 27, 2013

By John C.

The Hangover Part III PosterHow do you deliver a satisfying threequel to a sequel that was a disappointment compared to the instant classic that started it all?  This tricky question is answered by director Todd Phillips with The Hangover Part III, a surprisingly satisfying finish to a series that has already hit a record high and a disappointing low.

Like many critics, I loved The Hangover back in 2009 and kind of hated Part II in 2011.  But this time I have to stray from the critical path, because I actually enjoyed this finale to the series.  Although The Hangover Part III isn’t a great film like the original was four years ago, this is an entertaining threequel that offers something darker than the majority of mainstream comedies.

The film opens with a slow motion prison riot in Bangkok, as the infamous Asian gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Joeng) makes his escape.  Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is clearly lonely and happily buys a giraffe for companionship, but after an unfortunate highway accident and the death of his beloved father (Jeffrey Tambor), an intervention is staged and his friends agree to take him to a treatment facility in Arizona.  But his Wolfpack road trip with the smooth Phil (Bradley Cooper) and the anxious Stu (Ed Helms) is cut short when they are run off the road by Marshall (John Goodman).  The crime boss clearly isn’t happy with the way things have escalated over the past few years, and he takes Doug (Justin Bartha) hostage, with the intent of killing him if Chow isn’t returned in three days.

Much of your appreciation of The Hangover Part III might depend on how you feel about an early scene in the film.  Alan puts on his headphones and turns up the volume on Billy Joel’s “My Life,” as his father drops dead of a heart attack in the background, perfectly framed in the same shot as the song blares on the soundtrack.  Some will see this as a dramatic moment played for comedy, but for me it is a sad point in the story that is filmed with an absurd understanding of the situation.  This brazen sense of telling the story in a way that fits the characters even if it means alienating the audience is one of the things that I actually like about the film.

There are scenes that push the boundaries of good taste and some gags that stretch plausibility, like a ridiculous end credits sequence that justifies the title.  But for the most part this threequel works because every scene isn’t played for apparent laughs, as things move at a quick pace of 100 minutes.  This is often a dark film, and what makes it interesting is the approach that Todd Phillips takes to telling the story, offering strikingly gritty cinematography that recalls the look of a thriller.  This is kind of a brave move for what is being marketed as a big summer comedy, and the sometimes pitch black tone has clearly proven to be unappealing for many people.

Part of what I like about The Hangover Part III also rides on the talents of the cast.  Bradley Cooper quickly became one of my favourite actors with his Oscar-nominated turn in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, and he has an incredibly appealing screen presence.  Zach Galifianakis was a bright spot in the first film, and here he gives his most fully realized performance in the series, portraying both Alan’s unhinged mental illness and innocent sense of fun in a way that suggests he knows he has to finally grow up.  This is his journey, and there are interesting undertones to the way that he can’t be easily pinned down.  The casting of Melissa McCarthy as a potential love interest is a nice touch.

There are also many allusions here to the first film, and there is something satisfying about seeing where the characters have ended up.  There is a nice scene with the stripper Jade (Heather Graham), and Alan even has a sweet reconnection with her son Tyler (Grant Holmquist), the baby that he found some four years ago.  These moments remind us why The Hangover was so acclaimed in the first place.  The second film was annoying because it was just going through the motions of trying to copy what worked so well the first time around, offering something unpleasant and nasty that isn’t even needed to appreciate the narrative of this closing chapter.

Which brings me to what I enjoyed about The Hangover Part III.  This threequel is intriguing for the way that it completely rips apart the formula that initially worked, but was rehashed to a much lesser extent in the disappointing sequel, offering a satisfying close to an infamous comedic trilogy.  There is a feeling of unpredictably to Part III that worked for me.  It’s always hard to be among the supporters of something that is widely disliked by the majority of critics, but I do appreciate the risks that were taken to deliver something different this time around.  Christy Lemire was also a fan of the film in what became her last review for the Associated Press, and it’s nice to know that I’m in good company on my recommendation.

Although Part III doesn’t reach the same heights of greatness as the first film, this is a big step up from the needless sequel, finishing the series on a satisfying note.  It’s easy to understand why many critics and audiences have been put off by the dark tone, but this threequel is also more entertaining than a lot of people have given it credit for.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but The Hangover Part III works because it dares to be different and is actually worth seeing for the risks it takes.

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