They probably won't be putting "not as offensively racist as the last one" on the poster, but that's about as much praise as the (hopefully) final instalment of the blokey comedy franchise merits.
It could have gone either way. The first was an unexpected delight, with its clever "what just happened?" structure (lifted from the underrated Dude, Where's My Car?); the second was an unimaginative replica, with anti-Asian jokes. Both elements are toned down this time, and if the racism isn't missed, the amnesiac-mystery device is. This is less a caper than a trudge; a linear adventure that proceeds in fits and starts, with few surprises and fewer laughs. There's barely even a hangover.
Things get off to an ominous start with a motorway gag involving a giraffe that is telegraphed 20km in advance. Alan (Galifianakis) has been "off his meds", you see, so his "wolfpack" buddies stage an intervention, and off they go on another ill-fated road trip. En route, they're kidnapped by John Goodman, who wants them to find Mr Chow (Ken Jeong), the Chinese gangster of the previous movies. There are heists, abductions, car chases and other escapades less wacky than previous ones that, inevitably, end back in Las Vegas. Many of the gags fall flat, and there are long spells where you forget you're watching a comedy at all. If part II went too far, part III doesn't go far enough. It's like everyone's been taking their meds.
What becomes clear is that these characters aren't that much fun to be around. Alpha wolf Phil (Bradley Cooper) and nerdy dentist Stu (Ed Helms) both say, "What the fuck?" a great deal. Mr Chow is disappointingly subdued, and the obnoxious energy he injected into previous movies ("so long, gay boys!") resurfaces only occasionally. That leaves Galifianakis's Alan – a camp sociopath whom you're never sure whether to laugh at or report to the authorities. He's an original, unsettling comic creation, and this is really his story – how he overcomes his barely sublimated desire for Cooper (thanks to an under-used Melissa McCarthy), and manages to establish some stability. If the Hangover franchise has been about anything, in fact, it's male buddyship and the fear that it could turn into, or be interpreted as, homosexual behaviour. With each movie, these men go through intimate bonding trials they'd rather not tell their female partners about, invariably involving drugs, nudity and a walk on the wild side. And by the end of each film, this one included, heterosexual normality is safely re-established by way of a wedding. The "wolfpack" is domesticated. Masculinity starts with a bang and ends with a whimper, it seems. So does the Hangover franchise.
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