Next month will see the one of the most popular and successful comedy franchises come to an close. Since the first Hangover movie was released back in the summer of 2009, we’ve laughed and enjoyed watching Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms party hard, suffer serious memory loss, and explore the darkness that resides in places like Las Vegas, Nevada and Bangkok, Thailand. As the tagline for the movie reads, however, it all ends with The Hangover Part III, and late last year I had the chance to witness the conclusion first hand.

Right before the Thanksgiving holiday of 2012, myself and a small group of other film journalists took a trip out to the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank, California to visit the set of the highly anticipated comedy, and in addition to getting detailed interviews with the cast and crew, also got to watch them film a scene from the new movie.

Scripted by Phillips and Craig Mazin, the sequel picks up two years after the last movie and finds Alan (Galifianakis) in a bad state, off his medication and mourning the death of his father (Jeffrey Tambor). After gathering for an intervention, Stu (Helms), Phil (Cooper) and Doug (Justin Bartha) get their fellow Wolf Pack member to agree to go to a rehabilitation facility – but those plans go horribly awry when they are run off the road and accosted by a man (John Goodman) who is on the hunt for Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) and believes that they are the only ones who can find him. With Doug taken as insurance that the friends will carry out the mission, Alan, Stu and Phil set out on another dark adventure from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Tijuana, Mexico looking for the psychotic Asian gangster.

In the scene we got to watch them shoot – which can actually be seen in bits and pieces in the most recent theatrical trailer – Alan, Stu and Phil have located Chow and are with him in a dank, disgusting Tijana hotel room. Alan backs up and tries to take a seat on what he thinks is a blanket-covered box, but instead it’s actually a crate full of roosters that Chow has been using for cock fighting. The birds fly out and go absolutely nuts, one flying straight for Phil’s face and knocking him to the ground. In an act of sheer stupidity, Chow goes to the nightstand, grabs a gun, and wildly starts firing at the bird attacking Cooper’s character. Horrified, Phil screams, “What are you doing, Chow?!” to which the snake-skin vest sporting crazy man yells back, “Stay still! I’m trying to help!”

If you couldn’t already tell from the cockfighting, gun-play, and dank hotel locale, a big part of The Hangover Part III is that Phillips is once again taking the story to a darker place – which is quite the achievement when you think about how dark Part II got at times. And that was not only he mission statement for this project, but how he prefers to let his film operate in general.

“I think it's a testament to the three actors more than anything,” Phillips told us during an interview between shots. “They're just such a believable group of friends that we can put them through whatever paces we want and people will go along for the ride. I do think that number two got a little bit darker than the first one, and I think it was appropriate where we wanted to take it, and I think people went along for the ride. So with this one, it's not so much darkness for darkness' sake, it's like the stakes get amped up a little bit. So when the stakes get amped up, things tend to go a little darker.”

Part of that darkness stems from the fact that Part III will be, in Phillips’s words, “Alan’s story.” Since the beginning we’ve known him as a deranged, somewhat-sociopathic weirdo who has been a true cause of pain for his friends and family – and that will be further explored in the second sequel - but Galifianakis also sees the new movie partially as a chance for the character to grow, and perhaps even show a bit of atonement.

“I think in all the movies, the character Alan is the catalyst for things to go wrong,” Galifianakis told us in an interview. “And this movie is Alan coping with the things that he's done wrong and coming to grips with that. So there's the other side of it, not just the mishaps of the character, it's also him trying to improve himself, which is kind of fun to do.”

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