THE HANGOVER PART III: 1 ½ STARS

There are two schools of thought regarding threequels. The third part of any movie franchise might be, 1.) a waste of time, made primarily to cash in on the name brand value of the property (think “Godfather 3” or “Superman 3”) or 2.) an economical way of telling a story unencumbered with the weight of establishing characters or origin story (think “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” or “Goldfinger”).

“The Hangover Part III” certainly has name recognition and doesn't waste any time in reintroducing the characters, but does it fall into category one or two?

The movie begins with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) making a spectacular break from a Thai prison. Meanwhile in the U.S. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is out of control. A deadly accident with a giraffe sets off a series of events that lead to an intervention by his family and friends (Wolfpack members Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms). Just when it seems that Alan might pull his life together the Wolfpack is coerced into playing bounty hunter, searching for Chow and $21 million in stolen gold. If they fail, hapless Doug (Justin Bartha, who, once again doesn't get to do any of the fun stuff) will be executed.

The second “Hangover” movie was an unfunny beat-for-beat carbon copy of the first. It contained all the elements of the first plus a monkey but it was too slavishly devoted to recreating the original to be anything more than a disappointment.

The new one is something else again. It's a heist film, sans the monkey and most of the laughs. The “Hangover” movies have always been dark and edgy but this episode lays it on thick.

Much of he humor comes from playing well-established characters off of one another. Trouble is, director Todd Phillips has chosen to wrong two characters to focus on.

"I got a dumb sense of humor, bra," says Alan. And how. There's strange and there's funny, and, as Alan, Galifianakis revels in the former more than the latter. Used sparingly he can raise a smile, but when the messy death of a giraffe is the comedic highlight of Alan's storyline you know something is amiss. What's funnier than killing a giraffe? Nothing apparently.

Jeong is also best enjoyed in small doses. Both actors are fearless, but taking risks doesn't always add up to big laughs.

Cooper and Helms are relegated to the supporting cast, mostly there to react with a hearty "WT?" to the strange goings on.

And it is strange. The story is stuck in limbo somewhere between heist flick and comedy--with some attempted heartwarming moments thrown in for good measure--never really committing to either.

At one point Chou dramatically asks, "How do you kill what is already dead?" In terms of the “Hangover” franchise-which I thought had a fatal case of sequelitis after the second installment-you simply put the wrong people in the leads.

FAST & FURIOUS 6: 3 ½ STARS FOR FURIOUS FANS, 2 FOR EVERYBODY ELSE

I don't know how much “Fast & Furious 6” cost to make. The huge cast must be raking in substantial paychecks by now and you'd need to be a mathematician to figure out the number of cars they destroy. Heck, just the screeching tire sound effect budget alone was probably worth more than

The new movie is the culmination of the previous five. A greatest hits-literally, there are some wild crashes here-featuring characters from most of the films in the series. All the old faves are back-drug lord Braga (John Ortiz), Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and even Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), who was presumed dead in the last installment-in a story that doesn't make a great deal of sense, but if it was supposed to make sense it would be called “Sedans and Sensibility” or maybe “Of Miatas and Men.”

No, this is a “Fast & Furious” movie that plays fast and furious with believability but still delivers a pretty good time at the movies.

Picking up where “Fast Five” left off, when we first meet Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Company they are wealthy outlaws, living in countries with no extradition to the United States. Their quiet lives are disrupted when a gang led by super villain Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) stages a daring raid that threatens international security. A task force led by Hobbs (Johnson) calls on the expertise of the furious fugitives to help bring Shaw to justice. It becomes personal for Dom when he discovers that his former girlfriend Letty is working with Shaw.   

These movies are review proof. If you liked the other movies in the franchise, you'll like this one. It's faster and furiouser than the others, so drenched in machismo-the women are even macho-you can almost smell the Brut cologne, but other than that it is essentially the same film.

It can be broken down to essentially this: Swagger interrupted by a snappy one liner, a wild car chase, a fight scene, repeat.

The themes of loyalty and friendship are still at the forefront, usually expressed in very dramatic dialogue delivered in the best teen noir style by Diesel who speaks every line as though he is dragging it through sandpaper but that wouldn't mean much if cars don't become air born before they burst into flames.

“Fast & Furious 6” puts the pedal to the metal one more time in a franchise that will eventually run out of gas, but for now is still running on fumes.




EPIC: 2 STARS

On the surface “epic” seems to have all the ingredients of an enduring modern animated story. There's a queen alongside strong female characters. A nifty slogan, “Many leaves, one tree: we're all individuals, but we're all connected.” There's square jawed warriors, a Danny Elfman score, some comedy, a sneering villain, an eco message, adventure, some really famous people doing voices and even a heart tugging story of a dead mother and distracted father. Imagine what Pixar could do with those fixings.

You'll have to keep on imagining because this isn't a Pixar film. It's a co-production between Twentieth Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios, and it could have used some of the Pixar magic.

When Mary Katherine's (Amanda Seyfried) mother passes away she is sent to live with her estranged father Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), a wingy scientist whose career and marriage were ruined by his “delusional” belief in a tiny, advanced woodland society. She doesn't buy in to her father's theories until one day she chases the dog into the forest and lands in the middle of an epic battle.

The ethereal, earthy Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles) and her Leaf-Men lead by Ronin (Colin Farrell) are fighting the Boggans, evil creatures governed by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) who wants to destroy the forest and rule the desiccated remains. Using some Mother Nature style magic the Queen shrinks Mary Katherine down to pixie size so she can help save the forest.

“epic” contains some beautiful and surreal animation-mushroom men and the like-but the story is so blandly predictable it makes “FernGully” look like “Lord of the Rings.”

Character work is nonexistent, with no exceptional voices save for Chris O'Dowd as the comedic relief in the form of Grub, a snail with a flair for the ladies and one liners, Beyoncé as the Queen and Waltz as the over enunciating villain. Other than those key players the voices are as bland as the story.  

Kids may enjoy the animation, although toddlers might be freaked out by the teeming hordes of Boggans, who are a cross between a bat and one of Ray Harryhausen's creations.

“epic” feels like a missed opportunity; a film that spent too much time perfecting the visuals, but not enough on creating epic characters or story.