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hangover3There are two schools of thought regarding threequels. The third part of any movie franchise might be, 1.) a waste of time, made primarily to cash in on the name brand value of the property (think “Godfather 3” or “Superman 3”) or 2.) an economical way of telling a story unencumbered with the weight of establishing characters or origin story (think “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” or “Goldfinger”).

“The Hangover Part III” certainly has name recognition and doesn’t waste any time in reintroducing the characters, but does it fall into category one or two?

The movie begins with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) making a spectacular break from a Thai prison. Meanwhile in the U.S. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is out of control. A deadly accident with a giraffe sets off a series of events that lead to an intervention by his family and friends (Wolfpack members Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms). Just when it seems that Alan might pull his life together the Wolfpack is coerced into playing bounty hunter, searching for Chow and $21 million in stolen gold. If they fail, hapless Doug (Justin Bartha, who, once again doesn’t get to do any of the fun stuff) will be executed.

The second “Hangover” movie was an unfunny beat-for-beat carbon copy of the first. It contained all the elements of the first plus a monkey but it was too slavishly devoted to recreating the original to be anything more than a disappointment.

The new one is something else again. It’s a heist film, sans the monkey and most of the laughs. The “Hangover” movies have always been dark and edgy but this episode lays it on thick.

Much of he humor comes from playing well-established characters off of one another. Trouble is, director Todd Phillips has chosen to wrong two characters to focus on.

“I got a dumb sense of humor, bra,” says Alan. And how. There’s strange and there’s funny, and, as Alan, Galifianakis revels in the former more than the latter. Used sparingly he can raise a smile, but when the messy death of a giraffe is the comedic highlight of Alan’s storyline you know something is amiss. What’s funnier than killing a giraffe? Nothing apparently.

Jeong is also best enjoyed in small doses. Both actors are fearless, but taking risks doesn’t always add up to big laughs.

Cooper and Helms are relegated to the supporting cast, mostly there to react with a hearty “WT?” to the strange goings on.

And it is strange. The story is stuck in limbo somewhere between heist flick and comedy–with some attempted heartwarming moments thrown in for good measure–never really committing to either.

At one point Chou dramatically asks, “How do you kill what is already dead?” In terms of the “Hangover” franchise—which I thought had a fatal case of sequelitis after the second installment—you simply put the wrong people in the leads.

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