An ugly, unpleasant contractual obligation wrenched like dental surgery from unwilling participants, The Hangover Part III is a singularly joyless experience, soaked in so much anger and desperation that the movie almost becomes interesting in spite of itself.
I can’t think of a half-decent comedy sequel. Most just make you retroactively hate the originals, the way The Hangover Part II recycled old jokes with such an edge of nasty contempt for the audience that it’s now almost impossible to remember what a wonderful surprise that first 2009 movie was. As with Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers, these cash-grab follow-ups do nothing but sour your affections for previous pictures.
The Hangover Part III might be an even more unique case because it doesn’t even bother trying to be a Hangover movie. Nobody has more than a drink or two, and it doesn’t even bother repeating jokes—or writing any new ones at all. This is a mean-spirited, gun-crazy action picture that just so happens to feature characters from that comedy you probably really enjoyed four years ago. “The Wolfpack” (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) are kidnapped by John Goodman’s blustery racist bad guy, forced at gunpoint to return to Vegas and track down Ken Jeong’s perverted gangster Chow.
There’s a built-in metaphor here: The entire cast is going through the motions against their will, with guns at their heads. I’ve always had a hard time relating to Bradley Cooper in movies, his slick handsome smirk so often off-putting. But here, Cooper is our welcome audience surrogate, as every line of dialogue consists of some variation of “What the fuck? Are you fucking kidding me? Why the fuck is this happening again, and what the fuck do we have to do to get this all fucking over with already?” (I toned down some of the swear words in that particular paraphrase.)
Director Todd Phillips has always had a pushy, juvenile sensibility, but lately has been developing serious chops behind the camera. The Hangover Part III, like its laughless predecessor, is one of the more intricately staged, strikingly well-photographed “comedies” we’ve seen in years. He’s growing into technical virtuoso territory that would put most frequently employed action directors to shame. Often gorgeously shot, this film feels like his audition for a gig on the next Die Hard sequel or something—anything but another Hangover movie. Nobody wants to be here.