The Hangover Part III

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Don't fear the final hangover

The Hangover part 3 is a fond farewell to the trilogy with proof that there is literally nowhere else for this franchise to go.

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Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Reader rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (12 votes)

When a film series makes as much money as this has, there is usually something interesting hiding out the back in the screenplay. Critics may damn the vulgarity of recent R-rated comedy (and I often do), but audiences respond instinctively to new ideas, or at least new bottling of old ones.

In the first film, three friends woke up in the penthouse at Caesars Palace Hotel in Vegas after a bucks night, with no memory of what had happened the night before. There was a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet and Doug, the man who was getting married, had disappeared. Retracing their steps, the mild-mannered dentist Stu (Ed Helms) discovered that he had married a hooker the night before (Heather Graham), they'd all been drugged with Rohypnol, and they were now being pursued by a mad bipolar Chinese gangster with a small penis. Mr Chow (Ken Jeong) had turned up naked in the trunk of their car.

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In bed with criminals: John Goodman plays a Vegas gangster.

Everyone, including director Todd Phillips (Old School), was surprised by how well that film did, although when a studio pays $2 million for a script someone saw its potential. I do not know what made it so big, but I'll tell you anyway.

I think The Hangover dramatised the dreams and nightmares of the average American Joe on the eve of marriage: go to Vegas, get wild and crazy with your buddies (not your wives) and return home with a manly secret, to be spoken of only among the few. This part was about forbidden fruit, which is why Heather Graham played the prostitute. You wish, the film was saying to the men in the audience. The script then punished the cast, to a degree that was funny and salutary. See what happens when you give in to the devil? Transgressors always pay a price, even in comedy.

To put it another way, The Hangover was a Freudian slip. It dramatised - deep breath - Freud's structural model of the human psyche. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) was the Id, the instinct become rampant, a sort of mother-hating overweight man-child, a veritable psych ward of mental illnesses with a fondness for all pharmaceuticals. Stu was the super ego, the sensible dentist, the limiter, the thinker. Bradley Cooper's handsome Phil, an amoral goodtime boy, was the ego, up for anything but still capable of reason (unlike Alan).

It was an appealing mix of characters, with an appealing set of mostly new actors. Cooper was becoming one of the world's most desirable men; Galifianakis announced his arrival in the comedy big top with this role. There has never been a movie character quite like Alan, the moron who thinks he is the smartest guy in the room.

The meanness made it modern. In the third film, Alan treats his mother like a servant and his Mexican nanny like dirt, after the death of his dad (Jeffrey Tambor). In the first 20 minutes, a giraffe and a couple of roosters meet their maker, and the film gleefully libels several cultures (the Thais, the Chinese, the Mexicans), basically anyone who's not white and American. All of this happens as the four pals are sucked into a maelstrom, courtesy of John Goodman, making his debut as a Vegas gangster. Marshall (Goodman) wants the boys to find the gold Chow stole from him. The path leads back to Vegas, where they lost it first time round.

Chow's role has grown with each movie. He's the star of the third, allegedly final, instalment. If anything, he's crazier than Alan, with whom he has bonded. Chow is a bisexual, drug-loving natural born criminal with a need to be loved, a potent combination. Most of the laughs in Part III come from him, but in truth, there are fewer than we expect from this series.

As novelty recedes, Todd Phillips and his co-writer reach for more seasoning: worse language, kinkier situations, real violence instead of threatened. The law of sequels applies: everything is stupider, louder and coarser, but that's what some of the audience wants. A giraffe's head through the windshield of a car full of happy kids? What could be funnier?

The series is all about the idea that the world is much nastier and more threatening than innocent people realise, especially beyond America's borders, although not exclusively. The heartland of the film is the playpen of Las Vegas, where all masculine desires can be indulged, before surrender to the feminine, the stable. There's an enemy within, in the hearts of men. It's less old school than Old Testament.

Twitter @ptbyrnes