In Hollywood, where every moneymaking franchise is milked until it lies there like a desiccated husk of its former self, closing out “The Hangover” series after three movies qualifies as an act of selfless virtue. And there is something oddly daring about how director Todd Phillips is putting “The Wolfpack” down, because “The Hangover, Part III” radiates more tension than hilarity. It's as if Phillips is taking a cue from Larry David's final “Seinfeld” episode, and now Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug are going to pay — big time.
Oh sure, “Part III” starts out with an appropriately stupid gesture in which Alan (Zach Galifianakis) gets into big trouble while transporting a large zoo animal, but it's not long before the aggressively immature man-child is face down in the desert with Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) with guns trained on them. It seems Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) has escaped from his Thai prison and ripped off a gangster named Marshall (John Goodman), and Marshall now wants “The Wolfpack” to deliver Chow.
“The Hangover, Part III” is super Chow-centric — Phillips gives the extremely capable Jeong more screen time than the two previous films combined, and compared to the emphasis on Chow antics, the rest of the 'pack is just along for the ride.
Jeong takes it and runs with it, but Mr. Chow is a much more malevolent presence in this final chapter, and as the boys track Chow to a hiding place in Caesars Palace, he's throwing himself an end-of-the-world party worthy of Tony Montana from “Scarface” or Randall Flagg from “The Stand.” Alan has plenty of problems and his friends are doing their best to help him, but his biggest failing is putting so much trust in Chow.
Fans who went nuts for the manic debauchery of the first films will notice the decidedly more somber tone of this installment, and despite some funny moments from Melissa McCarthy as Alan's love interest, “The Hangover, Part III” is pretty hard-boiled — there's a serious, no-messing-around body count. Phillips hit his stride as a director once R-rated comedies became popular again in the mid-'00s, but this time around, the f-bomb-to-bullet ratio achieves near parity.
Is it truly the end? Well, Phillips leaves himself an opportunity to move forward thanks to a funny epilogue that recalls the best moments of the first movie — despite the ramped-up violence, he hasn't exactly snuffed out this franchise once and for all. But given that 2011's “Part II” was a weak rewrite of the original and “Part III” summons most of its energy from action rather than laughs, it's time for “The Hangover” to go cold turkey.
— George Lang