The Wolf Pack reunites once again for another round of debauchery and mayhem, though this time, no one gets lost. Instead, John Goodman plays a ruthless thug who forces the group (consisting once again of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and sometimes Justin Bartha) to track down Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who recently escaped from prison.

The what-did-we-do-last-night format is tossed aside for a more straight-forward road movie approach. There’s also fewer laughs, no Mike Tyson appearance and no end credits photo reveal. What kind of a sequel is this? Not seeing Iron Mike again is one thing but the exclusion of the latter is fatal: the montage of photos that unfold over the end credits is a series staple and typically the funniest scene. Also, since Galifianakis’ Alan is constantly shown taking pictures throughout the tale, you wait for a payoff that never comes. That actually sums up the entire experience of watching this movie.

It’s the end of the line for this series, which was never very good to begin with. Every Hangover has been hit and miss, including the over-praised original. Scattered laughs and a few genuine chuckles are hardly the stuff of classic comedies, and these movies aren’t even as good or consistently funny as the American Pie series. After the mediocre first sequel, an opportunity for the franchise to go out strong and redeem itself has resulted in just another lousy sequel.

Mr. Chow and Alan were always characters best taken in small doses. Here, they’re practically the whole show and prove as endearing as screeching parakeets. Director Todd Phillips, like Jay Roach and Ben Stiller before him, can find laughs in throwaway comedy bits but his heavy handed approach saps most of the jokes of their gleeful tenacity and renders every scene overly mean spirited. This is a better film than both his Hangover II and Due Date, but not by much.

Recent Oscar-nominee Cooper doesn’t need this franchise anymore and neither does Helms, both of whom seem half engaged, half-miserable to be here. Most of the cast seems present due to a contractual obligation, not because they wanted to make the movie. I’ve complained in both my previous Hangover reviews that the fourth member of the cast, Bartha, is under-used and has been funny in other movies. I should be careful what I wish for. Here, Bartha’s role has finally been expanded and it adds nothing.

The most outrageous scene is saved for last, though there is ample drug use, casual sadism and cruelty to animals, all played for laughs but not finding many. So help me, I laughed when Mr. Chow jumps off a tall building and soars over the Las Vegas skyline, shouting, “I love cocaine!” An early bit with a giraffe is equally tasteless and horrible but, like any good sick joke, kind of hilarious.

Yet, the story is malnourished and, despite the two examples above, the jokes never go far enough. A key scene illustrates how the screenplay keeps missing opportunities to stand out: When the Wolf Pack sneaks up on Chow’s anything-goes Vegas party, it should have played like Caligula reborn. Instead, after a long set-up, there’s no payoff.

There’s a brief reunion with Heather Graham, an actress who’s proven in past roles to be as gifted and game for anything as her male co-stars. We also meet up with the now-grown infant from the first movie. Neither of these encounters adds anything. Completists may give it a pass and a few moments work but this sequel just doesn’t cut it. Save your money–there are other, better films to catch this summer.

Score: **  (1-5 Star Scale)

Rated R

100 Min.

Photo: Movieweb

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Written by Barry Wurst

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