By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Third time’s the charm, they say.

Well, for the Hangover franchise, it better be, because the first time was a sporadically funny but severely overrated bachelor-party-gone-kablooey romp.  And far worse was The Hangover Part II, a thrown-together dud rehash absolutely deserving of its nearly universal derision.

The Hangover Part III reunites the primary cast and finds a new tone, resulting in the strongest of the three outings.

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

So, following a glass half-empty and an empty glass, The Hangover Part III presents itself as a half-full glass.

The threequel breaks formula –- there’s no wedding, no bachelor party, no waking up from a night of debauchery with no memory of what happened.

Instead, we get a new thug, played by John Goodman, who demands the help of the guys –- by taking Justin Bartha’s Doug hostage and threatening to kill him if they don’t come through — in his attempt to go after returning gangster Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong, who has stolen from him a stash of gold bars worth many millions.

It’s been two years since Bradley Cooper’s Phil, Ed Helms’ Stu, and Doug last shared a dangerous adventure with Zach Galifianakis’ oddball man-child, Alan.

Now Alan, despondent over the recent death of his father, has stopped taking his meds and given in to his natural impulses, which are unconventional to say the least.  Self-destructive crisis, here he comes.

And he’s not alone, bringing his three best friends along with him as he returns to Las Vegas, where it all began, to gain closure and save their kidnapped buddy.

So the Wolfpack has hit the road.  Again.

And Melissa McCarthy joins the party as a pawn shop worker who immediately connects with Alan.

Director Todd Phillips (Old School, Road Trip, Due Date), completing his Hangover trilogy from a screenplay he co-wrote with Craig Mazin, lets us know from scene one that he’s hunting different game during this excursion.

He changes things up and heads for the darker side by switching from broad-broader-broadest comedy to a virtual road trip/heist thriller with comedic elements.

He also gives Jeong a much higher profile this trip, and brings back several other characters from the earlier films.

Given that the second Hangover was so dreadful and was such a regurgitation of the first entry, it’s laudable that Phillips has taken a chance on alienating the franchise’s fans by trying something new with the third installment.  He seems much less intent on getting laughs than playing out the characters’ short-term destinies.

Consequently, although guffaws are in short supply, the film has a quirkily fascinating watchability.

Unfortunately, while the focus on the cartoonish characters played by Galifianakis and Jeong along with the demotion of the more grounded-in-reality characters played by Cooper and Helms to the background keeps us off guard, it also undermines what little claim to verisimilitude the film has in the first place.

But that’s okay because, in this third trip to the well, funny/peculiar stands in for funny/haha.

So we’ll hang over 2½ stars out of 4 for this departure of a madcap sequel.  In the better-than-its-predecessors Part III, The Hangover gets a makeover.

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