All the qualities that made Todd Phillips' first "Hangover" comedy so shocking, funny and engaging have checked out of this second sequel, which is about as innovative and creative as its title, "The Hangover Part III."
Only two segments in this struggling sequel rise to a level worthy of Phillips' original 2009 movie, at that time the highest-grossing R-rated comedy in Hollywood history.
"The Hangover Part III"★ ½
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong, John Goodman, Heather Graham
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated R for drug use, language, nudity, sexual situations, violence. 100 minutes
(A lifeless 2011 sequel strove to become a carbon-copy of the original with disappointing results.)
The first segment showcases Plainfield native Melissa McCarthy as a Vegas pawn store manager whose odd, off-kilter personality eerily meshes with that of Zach Galifianakis' intelligence-challenged man-child Alan.
The second segment pops up at the very end as a tag, a "six months later" epilogue so off-the-charts crazy that a couple of its outrageous sight gags might actually cause retina damage.
Normally, a sequel attempts to re-create the same elements that made the original such a success.
Phillips and co-writer Craig Mazin drop the time-shifted structure of the original story and opt for a straightforward, flatly dull narrative.
The original emphasized the relationships between the relatively normal members of "the wolfpack," mainly handsome Phil (Bradley Cooper), dentist Stu (Ed Helms) and boring Doug (Justin Bartha).
"Part III" is dominated by nut job Alan and comically effeminate sociopath Lesley Chow (Ken Jeong). These two practically shove Phil and Stu to the sidelines while poor Doug barely musters any screen time.
After a promising sequence in which a blithely clueless Alan accidentally beheads a giraffe on a freeway underpass, "Part III" launches into a wolfpack intervention to persuade Alan to get help.
On the way to the mental health clinic, the guys get waylaid by masked assailants working for a mobster named Marshall (John Goodman, emitting just enough gravitas to keep us awake).
Marshall wants to find Chow to recover $21 million in gold bullion Chow stole from him. Marshall decides the wolfpack can find Chow faster than anyone, especially if he takes Doug hostage and threatens to kill him should the packers not come through.
So begins a trek to Mexico and Las Vegas to find Chow (who escapes from a Thai prison in the film's opening), return the gold and save Doug.
The sense of camaraderie that once bonded the wolfpack now feels contrived and forced.
Although these characters profess to love each other, the actors don't bother to make the words sound sincere.
For every comical line that works ("I can think of so many people I would rather have died first," Alan says, "like my mother!"), others cling to the soundtrack like cold, congealed spaghetti. ("I could be a good wife to you!" Chow shouts to Alan,)
For every amusing visual bit (Alan's botched climb down the outside of Caesar's Palace), others come off desperate. (The Wolfpackers perform the cliched, slow-motion walk from "The Right Stuff" six times. Really?)
"Lesley Chow is madness!" Marshall reminds the Wolfpackers. "You don't talk to madness!"
"The Hangover Part III" is madness, too.