After "The Hangover Part II," more than one critic took filmmaker Todd Phillips to task for too slavishly following the first movie's winning formula, ingredient for ingredient. For a story so heavily dependent on the element of surprise — both ours and that of the characters — why couldn't he manage to nudge things in a slightly different direction?
With "The Hangover Part III," he's taken that advice to heart. And that's the problem.
The second movie was little more than a retread of the first, with a change of venue — from Las Vegas to Bangkok — and a bit more outrageous extremity. (A missing tooth in the first film became a severed finger in the second.) "The Hangover Part III," on the other hand, is such a departure from the franchise that there's not even a hangover. That's right, there's no drunken blackout, the events of which must be pieced together retroactively, forming the plot of the film.
To the contrary, the action here is precipitated by an intervention.
It starts on a road trip to Arizona, where the deranged man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis) — whose careless drug dispensing gets everything going so horribly, horribly wrong in movies I and II — is being taken to a rehab facility by his reluctant friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) — collectively known as the Wolfpack. While en route, the four of them are ambushed by thugs working for the gangster Marshall (John Goodman), who wants to exploit the men's connections to Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) to retrieve some stolen gold bullion.
Jeong, of course, was memorably manic in the first two films as a criminal who is both dangerously unhinged and bizarrely charming, delivering a foul-mouthed, more than slightly frightening, yet also terribly funny performance. In this film, he's stashed several million dollars worth of gold bricks that he took from Marshall, who now wants them back. The Wolfpack's assignment is to track down Chow (who, unsurprisingly, maintains an e-mail correspondence with his demented soulmate Alan) and get back the gold. To ensure their compliance, Marshall takes Doug hostage.