IN the circumstances, two stars might be considered a minor triumph. The patchy original, released in 2009, made so much money that sequels were inevitable; the real shocker was the $586m the Bangkok-set Part II took, despite being as quantifiably lousy as anything else released in 2011.
The hangover III (15)
Directed by: Todd PhiLlips
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Star rating: * *
We’ve now come so far from whatever distinguished the original that, until a post-credits sting, nobody here gets remotely tipsy. Instead, director Todd Phillips ups Part II’s stuntwork while turning his fabled Wolf Pack into a schlubbier Ocean’s 11, pursued through the Vegas underworld by aggrieved heavy Marshall (John Goodman).
It isn’t a radical overhaul, but it permits greater clarity and respite: fewer ladyboys, for one, and more space for Ken Jeong’s amusingly unhinged Mr. Chow. The usual sticking points remain: variably charmless leads and a near-total absence of anything for women to do. Yet toning down the laddishness casts the once-flimsy central relationships in a newly affectionate light. With one anti-Semitic joke at which everyone onscreen blanches, a franchise premised on going too far finally arrives at some understanding of moderation: it’s not necessarily any funnier, but proves somehow more bearable for it.