Forget the Wolfpack. "The Hangover Part III" has evolved into the Zach Galifianakis-Ken Jeong show.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. The actors were scene stealers in the first two movies, and now co-writer / director Todd Phillips isn't pretending this is an ensemble comedy.
Even though he deviates from the formula of the last two movies (The "Wolfpack" tries to find a missing friend and piece together the hazy details after a night of debauchery), Justin Bartha once again is the missing Wolfpacker.
This time he's held hostage by a gangster named Marshall (John Goodman) who wants to force his friends to find Mr. Chow (Jeong), who stole $21 million in gold bars from him. The movie opens with Chow escaping from a Bangkok prison, and the only person he's had any contact with while in captivity was Alan (Galifianakis). So Alan, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) have to track down an international fugitive who has made their lives miserable in two previous adventures.
Cooper, who's moved on to better things ("The Silver Linings Playbook"), walks through the movie like the contractual obligation it is. Helms, who was one of the best things in the original, has been reduced to the nervous nellie of the group, letting out a shrill cry at each plot twist but that's about it (however, stay for the credits to see the latest indignity he suffers).
Instead, Phillips puts Galifianakis and Jeong at the center of one outrageous bit after another.
WHAT: "The Hangover Part III"
STARS: Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, John Goodman, Melissa McCarthy, Justin Bartha
STORYLINE: The Wolfpack is forced to find Mr. Chow by a gangster who takes Doug hostage.
DIRECTOR: Todd Phillips
RATING: R for pervasive language including sexual references, some violence and drug content and brief graphic nudity.
Galifianakis continues to hone and refine his portrayal of Alan, who seemed less like a character and more like a collection of odd quirks in the first two movies. Alan essentially has evolved into a 4-year-old trapped in a 42-year-old man's body. He's impulsive, moody, easily distracted and incapable of self-censorship. And the clash of watching him interact in a very adult world does produce its share of laughs.
In contrast, Jeong's Chow is a pure psychopath, a man capable of anything at any time. He thrives on chaos, and Jeong makes him gleefully demented.
Phillips lets those two characters run free in a movie that is darker and more daring than either of the first two films, but it's also meaner and uglier. One doesn't have to be a member of PETA to notice the strain of animal cruelty that runs through the "comedy." In addition to the decapitated giraffe joke spoiled in the commercials, they get attacked by and kill cockfighting roosters. Chow also kills a couple dogs (at least that's off camera). Then again, the movie is just as cruel to the human animals on camera.
"Part III" definitely is better than the first sequel, which was such a blatant copy of the original that it will be interesting to see if audiences take more of a wait-and-see with this film (Part II nearly doubled the opening weekend gross of the original - $85 million compared to $44 million - but still earned less money overall - $254 million to $277 million).
Late in the movie, Alan tells Chow they can't hang out anymore because bad things happen and people get hurt.
"I know. It fun," Chow responds.
At this point, not so much.