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The Hangover Part III

(2013) * 1/2 R
100 min. Warner Bros. Pictures. Director: Todd Phillips. Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Epps, Melissa McCarthy.

/content/films/4507/1.jpgAs someone who hasn't found Ken Jeong funny since Knocked Up, I'm not really in a position to tell Hangover fans whether or not they'll like The Hangover Part III, the seemingly (and hopefully) final picture in the series. I can tell you, however, that co-writer and director Todd Phillips has two answers to the poor critical reception to The Hangover Part II: not predicating the plot on blackout-induced mystery and (when in doubt) more Ken Jeong.

From my seat, The Hangover Part III looks less like a movie and more like a contractual obligation. Perhaps, too, it will be an obligation for fans of the previous films to buy their tickets, to see another misadventure for the "Wolfpack": selfish man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis), post-frat brat Phil (Bradley Cooper), and uptight dentist Stu (Ed Helms). Like Alan, these movies get their jollies being consistently inappropriate, but Phillips' intention to shock doesn't much play anymore, and not unlike the last outing, this one's more unpleasant than funny.

Phillips opens the film on a mock-epic note (complete with slo-mo and portentous chorus), as ever-resourceful criminal wild man Mr. Chow (Jeong) escapes a Thai prison under cover of a riot. Meanwhile, Alan's off his meds, setting off a chain of events that leads to an intervention and a road trip to rehab, but the Chow wrinkle forces the Wolfpack off course and onto another hunt for answers. The resulting big-budget comedy (fake-looking CGI giraffe notwithstanding) represents a slight improvement over its predecessor, but Part III is basically another futile exercise in trying to recapture lightning in a bottle.

The opening credit "A Todd Phillips Movie"—as opposed to "film"—accurately signals that the filmmaker is aiming for entertainment, not art, but he and co-writer Craig Mazin fail to overleap their own low bar. The predictable "audacity" of this sequel stands to reason, but the plot doesn't. The writers would have been better off actually going for broke, burning bridges with the characters and even the fanbase in a truly audacious story with some palpable consequences.

Instead, we get pretty much more of the same. A few scenes fleetingly mitigate the almost total dearth of laughs by injecting weird poignancy: a return visit to the stripper played by Heather Graham plays out an interesting idea about the passage of time since the first movie in 2009, and Melissa McCarthy livens up the picture in a couple of scenes as a pawn-shop proprietress with eyes for Alan, suggesting that maybe what the otherwise hopeless case needs is the love of a good woman. At least there's truth in advertising: a Hangover that's lingered like nausea.

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