Critics Fangs Are Out for the Wolfpack in Early ‘Hangover’ Reviews

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

The poster reads, "It ends."

The critics reply, "Good. And don't let the door hit you on the way out."

The Wolfpack Saga comes to a close as "The Hangover Part III" opens in theaters Thursday, May 23, and so far reviewers are not being kind to what's being billed as the final installment in the raunchy comedy franchise. Metacritic, a website that collects and evaluates reviews on current movies, is giving "The Hangover Part III" an unfortunate rating of 35 out of 100, showing four positive reviews, twelve that are neutral, and nine negative. And the negative reviews sound not so much disappointed as openly hostile.

In the New York Times, Stephen Holden writes, "The Wolfpack rides again. Or rather, it limps exhaustedly over the tundra in what is billed as the final edition of the 'Hangover' trilogy. Defanged, with glazed eyes and creaking joints, these superannuated party animals try vainly to stir up some enthusiasm during a return visit to Las Vegas, the site of the first 'Hangover' movie. But their heart isn’t in it."

[Related: Original ‘Hangover’ Baby Back for Part 3]

Claudia Puig is no kinder in USA Today. "The players seem like they're going through the motions here," Puig wrote. "[Bradley] Cooper and [Ed] Helms spend their time reacting or making wan snide remarks. [Zack] Galifianakis tries a bit harder, but Alan's strangeness is more distracting than comical."

And Ty Burr, writing for the Boston Globe, says, "'Hangover Part III' is dully straightforward stuff, with none of the jack-in-the-trunk surprises and little of the inspired crassness of the original 'Hangover.'"

While the 2009 original "The Hangover" got generally positive notices from critics for its inventive plotting and outrageous comic set pieces, the 2011 sequel "The Hangover Part II" was widely criticized for following the template of the first movie far too closely. Director Todd Phillips and screenwriter Craig Mazin have come up with a very different premise this time out – Phil (Cooper), Stu (Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) are taking Alan (Zach Galifianakis) to a medical facility to help curb Alan's erratic behavior. But en route, they run afoul of a Marshall (John Goodman), a gangster looking for the unhinged Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). Chow stole a massive cache of gold from Marshall, and Marshall takes Doug hostage, promising not to release him until the Wolfpack delivers Chow.

[Related: Get Local Tickets and Showtimes for 'The Hangover Part III']

One criticism that pops up in several reviews is that "Hangover Part III" plays more like an action thriller than a comedy, with more chases and stunts than laughs. "At times it’s debatable whether 'The Hangover Part III' should even be considered a comedy at all, as it more often plays like a loopily plotted, exposition-heavy actioner," writes Andrew Barker in Variety. "Despite a career-long devotion to low-brow comedy, director Todd Phillips displays a deft touch for the various jail breaks, heists and car chase sequences that arise here, while the film’s attempts at basic comic banter wither on the vine."

And several reviewers have expressed outrage over the violence meted out to various animals in the movie, including a scene where a giraffe is decapitated. "'Hangover III' is so determined to defy political correctness that it breaks one of the last cinematic taboos," writes Stephen Farber in the Hollywood Reporter. "Any schlockmeister can slaughter hundreds of people on camera, but how many filmmakers dare to kill dogs, other mammals, and even smother a rooster?"

Even the most enthusiastic notices for "The Hangover Part III" say the best moments have more to do with the cast than the behind-the-camera talent. "Galifianakis ... is the key here," writes Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily News. "Able to smash a scene to smithereens with the simplest of lines, the hirsute comic is as unpredictable as ever, yet takes director Todd Phillips’ bait to up the stakes. It’s a treat to see the loony man-child Alan blooming in love, friendship and even faux-fatherhood after a reunion with baby Carlos from the first film."

[Related: ‘The Hangover Part III’: New Trailer Reveals a Chow-centric Plot and John Goodman as the Villain]

And The Arizona Republic's Bill Goodykoontz exemplifies the notion of "damning with faint praise" when he writes, "It’s an unnecessary movie, with some funny parts and a few callbacks to the original, as if visiting Las Vegas for a bit might bring back some of the original magic. It doesn’t, but at least this time it seems like they’re trying. A little, at least."

If Warner Bros. is hoping that positive press will help drive "The Hangover Part III" past "Fast and Furious 6," over the Memorial Day weekend, it looks like they may be out of luck. But given that "Hangover Part II" managed to gross $254 million in the United States despite mediocre reviews, maybe the Wolfpack franchise is review-proof. The fact that "Hangover III" earned $3.1 million during late-night screenings on Wednesday night suggests that just might be the case.