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'The Hangover Part III' (R)

There’s exactly one good scene in all of The Hangover Part III,  a hilarious bit of business halfway during the end credits that reminds you what made the original film so good. The rest of this odious, mean-spirited movie — the crassest cash-grab to come out of a Hollywood studio in recent memory — appropriates the title and the characters from the previous pictures and sends them on a would-be adventure involving gangsters, gold bars and that pinnacle of hilarity,  decapitated giraffes.

Although The Hangover Part II grossed $586 million worldwide, audiences complained it was mostly an uninspired remake of the first movie. Intent on giving viewers something different, director and co-writer Todd Phillips set out on an new yet hackneyed direction. No more wild bachelor parties or bouts of amnesia or inspired bits of absurdist humor. Instead, the four pals known as The Wolfpack (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha) are threatened by a mobster (John Goodman) to find the elusive Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) and bring back the loot he stole — or else.

What ensues is a series of chases through Mexico and eventually Las Vegas, with the actors trying hard not to look bored and failing. Galifianakis, who is usually reliable for off-the-wall improvised riffs, seems to have stuck to the lame script this time. Cooper and Helms go through the paces, but it’s clear they are here only for their paychecks. Bartha, as usual for the series, is MIA for most of the picture, stuck with one of the most thankless roles in cinematic history.

The movie’s main focus is actually Jeong (TV’s Community), who can be hilarious in small doses, but gets way too much screen time to do his grating, homophobic, racist schtick. The Hangover Part III, like the rest of the films Phillips has directed, looks fantastic and contains some elaborate setpieces that make you wonder how the filmmaker would fare with a straightforward action picture. But the story is moribund, the energy low and the movie is so wan that even a cameo by Melissa McCarthy falls flat, proving for the first time that the terrific actress isn’t capable of enlivening any comedy she’s in.

The Hangover Part III’s biggest sin is that there are hardly any actual jokes or sight gags in it (Galifianakis asking Cooper where he bought his shirt is not a joke). This is a smug, witless picture that makes you feel like you’ve been had — at least until that great bit over the end credits shows up, and you go home wondering how that movie might have turned out.

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, John Goodman, Heather Graham, Mike Epps, Melissa McCarthy.

Director: Todd Phillips.

Screenwriters: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin.

Producers: Daniel Goldberg, Todd Phillips.

A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 104 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, nudity, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. Opens May 24 at area theaters.