Is there anything funny about the death of a giraffe? On the whole, I think not - so when the appalling man-child Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) has an accident on the highway, The Hangover Part III is off to an unpromising start.
That said, there's something bracing about a mainstream Hollywood comedy with this much room for negativity. Even Adam Sandler has never played a character half as dysfunctional as Alan, a bearded dumpling with a long record of sex offences who still lives with his parents at 42.
This new Hangover does not follow the pattern of its predecessors, which saw the leads waking in bizarre circumstances with no memory of the previous night.
Instead, the plot kicks off when Alan is persuaded to check into rehab by his comparatively normal friends (whose devotion to him is a mystery in itself). This entails a road trip through the Nevada desert by the original foursome - Alan, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and the perpetually sidelined Doug (Justin Bartha).
On the way, catastrophe ensues: Doug is taken hostage by the fearsome Marshall (John Goodman), forcing the others to track down Alan's psychotic Chinese pen pal Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) who has just escaped from a Bangkok prison. So begins a new series of off-colour adventures, eventually bringing the trilogy full circle.
It must be admitted that Todd Phillips - responsible for all the Hangovers - has improved as a comedy director since Old School a decade ago. He knows how to frame a sight gag, even if Galifianakis is anything but a physical performer. He knows, too, that farce mechanisms work best when the stakes are high enough to create genuine suspense. The Hangover Part III is styled like an action movie, with high-contrast cinematography and tense music.
He also has an ace card - or at least a relatively high-scoring one - in Jeong, who has all the energy Galifianakis lacks. Drug-addled, cunning, sadistic, sexually perverse, Chow is not so much a racist caricature as a lord of misrule.
Technically this exotic monster is neither a hero nor a villain, but Phillips clearly loves him, to the point of letting him take over the movie. In accordance with Hollywood convention, Alan ultimately has to find redemption and clean up his act - but Chow is allowed to go on partying forever.
- Sydney Morning Herald