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HANGOVER III, THE , USA , 2013 , MPAA Rating : R for pervasive language including sexual references, some violence and drug content, and brief graphic nudity

In this age of sequels and sequels to sequels there has come to be a standard clause in many contracts. If a film is a hit, the principals involved are obligated to take part in further installments of the story. Hence THE HANGOVER II, which substituted high-stages tomfoolery for the endearing character-driven nonsense of the original. And, further hence, the hopelessly inept third installment, which has fatally confused edgy with unfunny, resulting in a film that is so inert that it fails to rise to the level of annoying. The only winner here, and I do use that term loosely, is Justin Bartha as Doug, who spends most of the film as the off-screen hostage.

But I digress.

Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Andy Helm) and Alan (Zack Galifianakis), having ravaged and been ravaged by Bangkok to the rousing indifference of the critics, now find themselves back in Vegas. Not right away, but after a detour to Tijuana and the distastefully casual slaughter of several animals and Alanís father (Jeffrey Tambor), actions that give pause, not guffaws. They are hot on the trail of Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who has busted out of a Bangkok prison. This pursuit is not because they want to cross paths with him again, any more than the audience does, but because he has stolen gold bullion from Marshall (John Goodman), and Marshall believes that the Wolf Pack are the only people who can track down Chow. Therefore he gives them three days to do just that or Doug dies. Heís not wrong about at least one-fourth of the Wolf Pack. Alan has been in touch since the prison break, and so his trip to rehab (being off his meds is the excuse)†is interrupted by a manhunt that proves itself incapable of establishing a mood or tone conducive to the comedy necessary to make any of this work.

Itís an over-lotted and underwritten mess. Running at a pace that simulates the screwball greatness to which it obviously aspires, it never comes close to attaining the escape velocity necessary. Bravely fulfilling their contractual obligations, Cooper gamely plays straight man to a painful dearth of actual comedy, and Helms gamely struggles to find the same tension between his outer bunny rabbit and slightly less skiddish inner bunny rabbit. Alas, their work only makes the faults of script and direction all the more obvious. Galifianakis and Jeong go for the outre wack-a-doodle burn, but even their boldest of peculiar choices fall flat. The most offensive thing, though, and itís a very competitive category, is that this is a flick that takes Melissa McCarthy, one of the funniest, most vivid people on the planet, possibly the solar system as a whole, and reduces her extended cameo to an oddly somnambulant shrewishness.

At one point early in THE HANGOVER III, Alan admits that he has a very dumb sense of humor, and sadder foreshadowing has rarely been seen in a film. And though it happens in the first half-hour of the running time, it becomes the perfect moment for alert audience members to quickly exit the theater by any means necessary.

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