Raunchy and absurd as its basic premise may have been, The Hangover works because it offers incredible balance. It gives each of the characters, whether lead or supporting, exactly the right amount of screen time. Everyone exists for a reason, and every line they utter serves a larger purpose. The same cannot be said for The Hangover Part III, where director Todd Phillips attempts to double the recipe, but instead only doubles the wilder ingredients, leaving viewers with way too much coconut and not nearly enough flour.
Take Zach Galifianakis’ Alan Garner, for example. The character works best when he’s an absurd counter-punch to the finicky and sensible Stu (Ed Helms) and the handsome and overpowering Phil (Bradley Cooper). Alan is just too outlandish to be relatable and too balls-to-the-wall to push the plot for an entire film. But in Hangover Part III he feels like the main character. He’s given the lion’s share of the jokes, and at the film’s worst moments, Stu and Phil are relegated to the background. Unlike Doug (Justin Bartha), they’re not absent - they just feel like representations of missed opportunities.
The movie starts out promising enough, as the entire gang reunites at Alan’s house for an intervention. The beard-iest member of the Wolfpack is off his medication, and everyone would like to see him check in to rehab. After much debate he agrees, but like every other trip these men have ever taken, this one does not go according to plan. Doug is kidnapped and Alan, Phil and Stu are ordered to hunt down Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) and the millions of dollars in gold he stole from a powerful gangster (John Goodman). They agree, but with Chow, there are no guarantees.
Chow is another character best utilized in small doses. He’s a wild card. He’s a sociopathic tornado with mean intentions and questionable fashion sense, and like any other natural disaster he should swoop in, leave bodies in his wake, and exit stage left. That doesn’t happen here. Instead, he spends long stretches with the three leads as though he’s another member of the Wolfpack. He chooses nonsensical Karaoke songs. He buys bath salts. He starts to get involved in cockfighting. Taken by itself, any of it could be funny, but altogether, it’s just too much of that damn coconut.
The Hangover Part III has some funny scenes, and more than a handful of its jokes could sit beside the better ones in the beloved original film. Now and again, it’s even well thought out and kind of touching. There are numerous callbacks to various scenes in earlier films, and every attempt is made to offer closure to the fans, who will also find nice little touches and Easter Egg moments throughout the runtime. Altogether, it’s just not enough to overcome the poor choices, delivering too much Alan, way too much Chow, and very little of the magic that made so many of us fall in love with these characters in the first place. The natural impulse for any filmmaker is to give fans more of the scenes and characters they rave most about, but without the proper context and the counterbalancing elements that set the stage for those laughs in the first place, it never works as well. It always just tastes too much like coconut.