Some mistakes you only make once.
Take the humdinger case of man-child Alan Garner bringing home a giraffe as a pet. Hey! He's always wanted one, he tells his dad. "They're majestic. Pensive. Tall," Alan soliloquizes.
Yeah, about that tall thing: Giraffes also don't fit under freeway overpasses very well when being hauled in a trailer. Needless to say, Alan's father, Sid, isn't happy when his son's latest shenanigan decapitates his would-be African pet and causes a massive freeway pileup.
Mid-rant, however, Sid drops dead of a heart attack.
That's when Alan's family and friends—Phil, Stu and Doug, the so-called Wolfpack—decide it's time for an intervention. Alan needs help, they agree. Real help. He needs to get back on his meds. He needs to get a better grip on reality. And so they talk him into taking a road trip for a stint at a residential treatment facility in Arizona.
Now, let me see if I have this right: The Wolfpack is going on a road trip. Surely nothing could go wrong with that. After all, the guys are actually trying to do the right thing for their friend—something of a rarity in this franchise.
Alas, those good intentions get sideswiped right off the desert highway when a grumpy old thug named Marshall rams Stu's minivan and kidnaps all four guys. It seems Alan is the only person on earth who has any contact with a conniving thief who stole $21 million in gold bars from Marshall. A thief named … Leslie Chow, who recently pulled a Shawhank Redemption from a Bangkok prison.
Get Chow and get the gold, Marshall threatens, or Doug dies.
And so the surreal pursuit of the always unpredictable Mr. Chow begins, leading Alan, Phil and Stu first to Tia Juana, then into the Mexican desert and, finally, back to (where else?) Las Vegas.
"I told myself I would never come back," Stu says of that final destination, the very location of the group's infamous, memory-erasing "adventure" in The Hangover.
And with good reason. Because there are some mistakes you only want to make once.
This franchise has hardly embraced the concepts of healthy limits and maturity, as a quick glance at our reviews of The Hangover and The Hangover Part II will confirm. So the most shocking thing about this third installment may well be that it offers up nods to those very ideas.
Alan's unruly, unregulated and manically unrestrained approach to life since going off unspecified psychiatric medication has now resulted in the death of a giraffe and contributed to the passing of his father. So his buddies, as well as Doug's wife (and Alan's sister), Tracy, and Alan's mother agree that he needs help. To wit, they stage an intervention to convince him he needs inpatient residential counseling and psychiatric help, which he grudgingly submits to.
While Doug is held as a hostage, this band of buffoons proceeds to do everything it can to procure Chow and the gold to save their friend. In the process, the guys are put in the unenviable position of setting Chow up for execution at Marshall's hand. And to their credit, they actually struggle morally with what the right thing to do is. They ultimately try to save both Doug and Chow. (They don't know that Chow will respond by doing a bit of killing himself.)
Thus, the importance of friendship and common human bonds is repeatedly emphasized. And not just any kind of friend or bond, either. Alan finally tells Chow, "Leslie, we can't be friends anymore. It's not good for me. It's not healthy. When we get together, bad things happen and people get hurt. I need to make some changes in my life." Then, right before his wedding, Alan tells his friends that he needs to resign from the Wolfpack so he can properly pay attention to his new bride.
Significantly, none of the main ("good guy") characters have casual sexual flings. And even the escort Jade from previous films is happily married now, having left her lady-of-the-night lifestyle behind to raise her son with her new husband.
In a ridiculous falsetto played for laughs, Alan sings "Ave Maria" at his father's funeral. "My god," Phil quips, "he's got the voice of an angel."
At the end of what is apparently a full-on orgy, Chow is shown getting out of a bed with three women. One of them, who's topless, is shown (very briefly) running from the bed. Chow later prances into a room completely naked, showing the camera everything. And after waking up from a drug-induced stupor, Stu is shocked to find that he's somehow received breast implants. He now has very female-looking breasts, which he and the camera both examine.
In addition to cavorting with women, Chow also makes repeated crude overtures to the guys. He asks Alan to kiss him on the cheek (which he does). He sticks his nose into Stu's clothed rear. He crudely offers to perform oral sex on Stu, then says, "I could be a good wife to you." An equally crude reference to anal sex is heard.
Alan eventually meets a pawnshop employee named Cassie, and it's crush at first sight for both. They grossly share a sucker in a scene that literally makes Stu gag as they take turns licking it suggestively. Eventually they kiss, after which Alan drops his pants, saying that's what happens in porn films. Cassie replies, "It's a nice gesture. But maybe we should wait." For how long though? Right before their wedding, Alan graphically talks about how much he likes having sex with Cassie.
Contrived physical comedy does more than merely hint at homosexual sex. Reference is made to Alan having been arrested for public masturbation. Alan tells Doug (his brother-in-law) that he's frequently watched him have sex with Tracy (Doug's sister). We hear about prostitution, and see women plying that "trade" on the streets of Tia Juana.
Alan's giraffe, as mentioned, gets beheaded. The impact with the overpass isn't shown, but we do see a giraffe head spinning bloodily through the air before it smashes through a car windshield. That collision creates a massive accident as cars careen and crash.
Marshall and his lackeys run Phil's van off the road, then roughly put hoods over their heads while kidnapping the four men. Three guys (elsewhere) are shot and killed at close range. Chow puts a knife to someone's neck and threatens to slit it.
Chow stages his prison breakout during a riot that includes a massive bed-burning melee. He tries to escape the Wolfpack by jumping from the top floor of Caesars Palace with a parachute; he lands on Stu's car and then plunges to the ground when the car runs into a fire hydrant. Alan nearly falls to his death. We hear that Chow has broken two dogs' necks. Chow's fighting chickens go on the attack; he shoots one and suffocates another with a pillow while the guys toss two other birds out the window.
Crude or Profane Language
About 100 f-words, 10 of which are paired with "mother." Thirty or so s-words. God's name is misused nearly 20 times, three times with "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is abused half-a-dozen times. We hear a handful of uses each of "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "a‑‑." Alan uses the n-word once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A Mexican police officer smokes a cigarette. And all sorts of folks drink beer, wine and other forms of alcohol in social settings. One scene takes place in a wine cellar. Alan is drinking and driving when the giraffe "incident" occurs.
Then, after Alan's wedding, guys wake up the next morning in a trashed room and with holes in their memory—exactly as happened in the previous two entries in the franchise. Chow appears (naked) and then gleefully announces that he put a drug in the wedding cake.
Chow is shown smoking a massive joint. Drug paraphernalia is glimpsed in his hotel room, and references are made to him and the girls he's with doing drugs. He says he feeds competitive, cockfighting chickens only "cocaine and chicken." He screams, "I love cocaine!" We hear references to the "roofies" that drugged the guys in the first movies.
Stu, who's a dentist, procures a large batch of the painkiller Demerol with which the guys intend to tranquilize Chow (but never do). They end up using it on two dogs, with the drug laced into hamburgers.
Other Negative Elements
At his father's funeral, Alan says there are "so many other people I would rather have died first—like my mother." He wets his pants when Marshall murders someone right in front of him. (It's understandable, but still.) The movie tries to get a few giggles out of him picking at his butt. And he pretends to be Jade's son's "real father" when they meet.
Chow coaches everybody on how to break into a house, and he delights in trashing the place once they gain entry. He eats dog food.
By the low, low standards set by the previous two Hangover films, the third entry feels positively positive in comparison.
OK. Not positively. And not really positive either. But you get my meaning.
The Wolfpack's commitment to helping their friends—whether it's getting Alan the psychiatric treatment he needs or saving Doug once he lands in Marshall's clutches—is admirable. And the acknowledgment that there are limits and healthy ways to relate to people is something of a first for this franchise.
Justin Bartha, who plays Doug, told USA Today, "The story is different just because it's not about piecing together the night before. It's not a drugged hangover kind of thing. It's about Alan, Zach's character, coming to terms with his life and also his friendship with Mr. Chow. So it's really about Alan. And also, it's really a wrap-up to the trilogy."
A wrap-up? A reviewer can only hope. Because what's not new and different is a naked look at Chow and the kind of gross-out-meets-sexualized gags that trigger Stu's new "breasts." Or the Benjamin-level f-bombs. And add to that a beheaded giraffe and three brutal shootings of characters who never see it coming.