*½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras C
starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, John Goodman
screenplay by Todd Phillips & Craig Mazin
directed by Todd Phillips
by Angelo Muredda When Project X spilled forth from its amniotic septic tank last spring, I read it as a prime example of a producer-driven form of auteurism pioneered by Judd Apatow. That found-footage chronicle of a house party-turned-apocalypse, I suggested, was a monument to producer Todd Phillips's equally noxious Hangover series, where the same Dionysian impulses and deep-seated hatred of the different--whether female, trans, queer, or disabled--were championed by a trio of middle-aged men. What a difference a year makes. If Project X was a brand consolidator and The Hangover Part II was a morbidly curious recalibration of its predecessor, displacing Phillips's demonic impulses and scarcely controlled misogynist rage from Bradley Cooper's Phil to Ed Helms's Stu, Part III is an actors' contract negotiation sputtered to life. Since the previous instalment, Cooper has become a respectable leading man and Oscar nominee and Helms has been savaged for the degeneration of his irritating Andy Bernard character on "The Office", while co-star Ken Jeong's fortunes have inexplicably risen. Consequently, gone now are the days of Phil's "Paging Doctor Faggot," along with Stu's loveable dude-rage and the Wolfpack's infinite jokes about Mr. Chow's shrunken Asian manhood. In their place is a surprisingly neutered, if inarguably more ethical, product with very few laughs and no reason for being.