It's no great secret that every writer eventually runs out of things to say. The well dries up, so to speak, and for a prime example you need look no further than "The Hangover 2: Copy / Paste Edition". For the thing that made the original "Hangover" great, non-linear innovation, was the very thing that made "The Hangover II" poor, there was nothing resembling innovation. So it gives me great pleasure to report that "The Hangover Part III" doesn't suffer from the same problem, and it is funny, and huzzah, who doesn't love a summer comedy done right? If the three films were boxers, "The Hangover" would be Mike Tyson, full of tremendous uppercuts, while "The Hangover 2" would be Michael Spinks, only good for about 90 seconds of entertainment. "The Hangover Part III"? Evander Holyfield, steady and solid, though still slightly battle worn and ear torn.
Fair warning: "The Hangover Part III" starts off on a discordant note, though thankfully it's about as unfunny as the film gets. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has purchased a giraffe, and for some reason he's towing it behind his car, leading to an eventual (and completely predictable) sight gag. This sort of idiocy is almost without precedent in the series, as the "Hangover" series has been embedded with the gritty realism of drug-induced bad decisions and seedy environments. This giraffe angle was almost as if someone had this idea back in their 6th grade creative writing class and finally saw a way to make that dream come true.
Nothing about this makes sense, you can't buy a giraffe in the United States, and even if you could, you certainly couldn't tow it behind your convertible like some kind of giant moronic rube. The scene is meant to convey Alan's dip into crazy, but all of the audience here is credentialed, we've been pre-dipped into Alan, and sorry for your luck if you somehow missed the first film. And really, if there is a problem with the "The Hangover Part III" it comes, surprisingly, in the form of Alan, a character who has been utilized well up until this point. They stay with Alan about one beat too long for almost every joke, and they lose a little momentum each and every time they do it.
Fortunately, the rest of the film proceeds nicely, well-paced and with steady barrage of laughs. The character of Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is handled particularly well this time around, he's still fit for a loony bin but his personality is developed a bit more, and he exhibits a baseline competence that makes his life as a gangster entirely more plausible. Enter John Goodman (as Marshall) - he's got serious beef with Chow and he "enlists" the wolfpack to assist him in asset recovery. Here's where the film will start winning you over, mostly because there are two "Big Lebowski" callbacks from John Goodman, and a movie can't ever go wrong with those.
Also on the plus side, director Todd Phillips continues to deliver great soundtracks, and his films are greatly augmented by the tone set when he's leaning hard on pop music. From Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talking at Me" to "Can We Get Much Higher?" by Kanye West, "The Hangover Part III" is drenched in music, but in a good way. Additionally, Carlos and the Bandidos provide maximum impact with "Down in Mexico" and the iconic Johnny Cash version of "Hurt" is revived, and much as with Jeff Beck's take on "Hallelujah" it never fails to haunt, and in this case cajole strange uncomfortable laughs from the audience.
Which leads us to another factor really working in "The Hangover Part III," the overall oddness of the film. There are moments of true depravity here that rival anything seen in mainstream cinema. Frankly, I don't know how some of them made it past the MPAA, even in an R-rated movie. These moments do land, however, mostly because they're so unexpected. "The Hangover III" somehow pulls off the dual trick of being sentimental and yet the darkest of the franchise, a nice little trick that leads to a fine finale. Quirkiness doesn't always work, just look at "The Big Wedding," but when it's laced with this much pathos it creates a sense of fluidity rarely found in comedic efforts.
One quick note on the title of the film, there's again no hangover to be found in the film. And really, since the opening scenes of "The Hangover," there haven't been alcohol-induced issues, unless you count a purposeful drugging of the gang, which is a stretch. If anything, these films will be remembered as "The Alan and Chow Show" or even "Wolfpackin,'" but I suppose they had to keep the original title once the first one cashed in worldwide. Yeah, this is a ticky-tac complaint, but as there won't be a fourth version it should probably go on the record for posterity, if only so that future generations don't think they're getting a boozy movie here.
Minuscule issues aside, "The Hangover Part III" has at least 85 (out of 100) strong minutes. Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms continue to provide huge amounts of levity within the ensemble, while Melissa McCarthy provides a smallish cameo that places unorthodox comedy front and center. Can we get much higher? In the case of "The Hangover III" I'd argue we can't. The franchise is sent off in style, a reminder of why it earned such praise and affection in the first place, the wolfpack giving us one final howl at the moon.
SCORE: 7.7 / 10
Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and probably hasn't even had three hangovers in his entire life, so perhaps he's not the best person to pass judgment.