Who let the dogs out?
In 2009 the Baha Men’s lyrics felt caustic, clever, comical and slightly subversive, perfect for the debauched Las Vegas bachelor party that was about to unfold. Phil, Stu and Alan — a.k.a. the Wolfpack, played by Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis — were about to begin their politically incorrect, impossibly irreverent and consistently perverse struggle to reconstruct the night and figure out where they lost the groom.
Side-splittingly hilarious, it used a heady blend of Mike Tyson, a Bengal tiger, a hooker, a baby, a chicken and a crazed, screaming and sometimes naked Mr. Chow to incredible comic effect. The movie came out of the blue. It was blue — its hard-R edge took the summer by surprise.
And then it took the summer.
Ah, those were the days, historic even, when “The Hangover” stood for something. For better or worse a cultural threshold had been crossed, the raunch rules rewritten.
And now? I’m not sure who let the dogs out this time, but they should be made to pay.
Or forced to suffer the fate of the giraffe in the ubiquitous trailers — the one whose long, lovely neck won’t clear the low clearance bridge. The giraffe is only a portent of bad things to come. The audacious jokiness of a chicken picking through the morning-after wreckage in the first film has devolved into fighting cocks being thrown out windows and worse.
If I were going to point fingers — and I am — I’d suggest the first mistake was in jettisoning the original writers. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who came up with the characters, the idea and the story in the first place, are now relegated to “character credit,” and cashing checks I’m sure.
Initially, director Todd Phillips seemed to know what he was doing — that the best way to handle all the outrageousness was to be even more outrageous. It worked.
Phillips stayed to direct the Wolfpack’s disappointing wedding trip to Thailand for 2011’s “Part II.” And he’s the man in charge of “Part III.” Meanwhile the box office, along with the myth that the “Hangover” is still funny, has hung on long after the comedy has left the building.
Phillips and Craig Mazin co-wrote the three-quel, dropping Scot Armstrong, who helped them with the dirty work on “Part II.” Since Phillips’ name keeps turning up like a bad penny, let’s put the blame for the down-slide on his shoulders. In fact, let’s send him to the Bangkok prison where “The Hangover Part III” begins.
Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is incarcerated inside its ancient walls and as things get underway the inmates are in full rebellion. Toilet paper, beds, guards, basically anything within reach is raining down. By the time we see Chow, he’s racing through the tunnels that snake their way under the prison. Sewage is involved.
Something has to be concocted to get the guys back together and us to the theater. Instead of a wedding, it’s an intervention to get Alan into rehab in Arizona. There are problems as soon as they hit the road, most significantly a kidnapping, with Justin Bartha reprising his missing person’s role as Doug.
The conflict comes in the form of a series of detours. Chow has taken a bunch of gold from a mob guy named Marshall (John Goodman). Because of Alan’s connection to the Asian outlaw — there’s a trail of prison letters — Marshall is threatening to kill Doug in three days if they don’t deliver Chow and the gold.
Jeong’s time with the Wolfpack has been well spent, turning him into one of Hollywood’s highest profile punch lines — a featured player in seven films this year alone and a series regular on NBC’s “Community.” It has also made him perhaps the most visible Asian actor since Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li kicked their way into the game, which only underscores the difficulty for rising male talents such as John Cho (“Star Trek,” “Harold & Kumar”), who are trying to get beyond the stereotypes.
Whatever “The Hangover” has done for Jeong, it is equally telling what he has done for the franchise. His sideshow-freak Mr. Chow has become the main attraction in “Part III.” Like the Demerol that Stu is forced to dispense many times in the next hour or so, Chow is much better in very small doses.
Before the smoke clears there will be a run-in with the Mexican police, a reconnection with former hooker Jade (Heather Graham), a flirtation with a Vegas pawn broker (Melissa McCarthy), yet another wedding and yet another morning-after in which Stu’s body once again serves as a reminder of how bad things got.
Galifianakis, the comic gift in the first, keeps on giving. Just not as generously. Still, what humor there is to be found in “Part III” is due to that innocent idiocy he embodies in the 42-year-old man-child of Alan.
For the most part, though, the Wolfpack has grown meaner over time. Cooper’s main job, except for one cool stunt atop Caesars Palace, is to look good, drop F-bombs and scowl. Helms’ role is to remain angry and insecure about the whole dentist-versus-doctor thing.
Chow, if possible, is more bitter than ever. If old friends have to be sacrificed to keep Marshall’s fortune, so be it.
Come to think of it, Chow is actually an apt metaphor for the movie — indescribably irritating and only in it for the money.
‘The Hangover Part III’
MPAA rating: R for pervasive language including sexual references, some violence and drug content, brief graphic nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: In general release