“Well the hurt doesn’t show, but the pain still grows.
It’s no stranger to you and me.”
—Phil Collins, “Something in the Air Tonight”
You miss Mike Tyson.
When he first appeared on screen in The Hangover, the effect was bizarre, disturbing, and electric. Even amid the film’s already considerable mayhem and lunacy, this was a step beyond: Mike Tyson air-drumming to Phil Collins: “My favorite part!” It stopped the storyline, such as it was, blew up any illusions that the story might make sense, and sucked you into a world where Mike Tyson was the most charming individual in sight. That he was himself—whatever that might have meant, then—was just this side of sublime. Tyson, Vegas, the tiger. Really, what could possibly top those two minutes of film?
And yet, The Hangover tried. Or more accurately, it piled on, in itself and again in its sloppy followup, Hangover Part II. The ideas were less chaotic, more tedious, efforts to one-up themselves, strained and increasingly wearying: the tattoos, the monkey, the baby, the transvestite, the Heather-Graham-as-a-prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold, and oh yes, the Ken Jeong-as-the-crazy-talking-Asian-guy all seemed part of the project to flummox and horrify the cocky white guys at the films’ ostensible centers (that the Asian guy’s “broken” English is a source of comedy is not a little troubling, and not in a good way). Because, of course, there’s nothing so funny as cocky white guys seeing the world anew. Or at least, briefly realizing that their view might not be everyone’s.
The first two movies managed this shift of perspective with a structure that was not entirely unclever. The titular condition made their efforts to piece together what happened part structural gimmick and part intelligent metaphor, an instruction on the relentlessly predictable forward motion of most movies featuring cocky white guys (teens and manchildren). That motion here makes use of the marriage plot (that is, the faux-maturing of one of the men) and by extension, the bachelor party and consequence, to suggest that there is no actual forward motion, but only repetition and recycling. The idiot manchildren remain as such—during their onscreen adventures anyway—no matter the suggestions by their wives, fiancées or one night stands that they are responsible, generous, or even vaguely mature individuals.
The hangover, fractured time gimmick is missing in The Hangover Part III, which is to ay, the plot moves more or less straight-ahead, no efforts to remember what might have happened, no revelation about the source of a tattoo or a baby or a tiger’s whereabouts. Still, the mayhem persists, which is to say that, while the first films’ restructuring of time for viewers (the titular effect) is now identified as dispensable rather than essential, and the fights and chases and car wrecks are now granted a more typical status, a series of episodes to get characters from one (emotional) place to another, and to get you to the end of the film.
Here, with episodes less antic and surprising than earnest and foregone, and with even the manchildren looking wearied by the proceedings (“Not again!”) that end cannot come soon enough. The plot this time begins with Alan (Zach Galifianakis) off his meds, in chaos, and in need of an intervention. The rest of the Wolfpack—much as they imagine it a bad idea to get involved—come along, urged on by their wives (they all have them now, save for Alan). And so, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) all climb into a car with Alan, driving him to a rehab facility in Arizona, only to be derailed by a truck full of goons in pig masks, and the gigantic gangster Marshall (John Goodman) who insists on their responsibility for the walking id named Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). Everyone protests, then everyone goes along, because, as you know long before the film begins, Doug ends up a hostage.
The events that follow don’t so much constitute a plot as more. Not the remarkably philosophically coherent “We want more, we want more” sort of more that animates the ATT commercial, but the sort of more that makes you feel tired and beat down, as if just waiting for the pummeling to stop. Yes, the manchildren will survive despite all odds, whether rolling over in their SUV or dropping off the roof of Caesar’s Palace or doubling down on the homoerotic/homophobic combinations, facing down an increasingly belligerent and mayhemic Mr. Chow. The movie repeats everything but the surprise, the surprise that Mike Tyson embodied and acted out, the surprise that you miss more than you knew you could.