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'The Hangover Part 3' is the last one

From left, Bradley Cooper as Phil, Zach Galifinakis

From left, Bradley Cooper as Phil, Zach Galifinakis as Alan, and Ed Helms as Stu in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' comedy, "The Hangover Part III."
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Throughout humankind's long experience with debauchery, indulgence and self-destruction, there has never been a problem with hangover withdrawal. "Hangover" withdrawal? That may be another issue.

But we simply have to face it: With Thursday's opening of "The Hangover Part III," the comedy series about (almost) ordinary guys in remarkably screwed-up situations, ends a lucrative run that began in 2009 in Las Vegas, continued in 2011 in Bangkok and now takes a swing into Tijuana before landing back in Vegas. It's the end of the road trip. There will be no Part IV. No prequels, no sequels. No "Hangover" Christmas Special.

"Although that's a great idea," said writer-director Todd Phillips. "I like that."

"It is, in fact, over," said actor Bradley Cooper. "And I think it's kind of really wonderful to go out on a high note. But this is the end. Todd dedicated six years of his life to this, and the fact that he was able to create three movies in that time period, we're all very lucky for that. But he's got to move on and do other stuff."


Other projects beckon

As do they all. The Oscar-nominated Cooper, who has played high school teacher Phil Wenneck for all three "Hangover" films, will be appearing soon alongside his "Silver Linings Playbook" co-star Jennifer Lawrence in "Serena." Zach Galifianakis -- "The Hangover's" bizarre child-man Alan Garner -- has the comedy "You Are Here" coming up; Justin Bartha, who plays Doug Billings, stars as punk rocker Stiv Bators in the upcoming "CBGB" movie, and Ed Helms -- who plays Stu, the nervous Dockers-wearing nerd with the face tattoo (erased for "Part III") -- has, among other things, the pot comedy "We're the Millers" with Jennifer Aniston.

First, they have to survive Tijuana, and John Goodman. Having staged an intervention to get the insufferable Alan the help he so desperately needs, Phil, Stu and Doug are en route with their friend to a treatment facility when they're ambushed by the thuggish Marshall (Goodman), who takes Doug hostage until the boys can deliver Mr. Chow -- the felonious, drug-dealing gay gangster played by the outrageous Ken Jeong. Bartha promptly disappears for most of the movie ("He's the unsung hero for sure," Cooper joked), while the others attempt a gold robbery in Mexico, chase Chow around Tijuana and rappel down the face of Caesar's Palace.


Three personalities make one

The success of the "Hangover" films -- the first one made more money than "II," but "II," oddly, made more overseas -- may have to do with the way the characters clash and complement each other. Phil is handsome and confident, Stu less so and unsure of himself, and Alan is all naked id and consistently inappropriate. Together, they sort of make up one whole person.

"I never thought of it that way," said Helms, "but I do think the reason why this movie resonates for people is that, on a superficial level, these characters are very much recognizable archetypes, with the cool guy, a nerd and a weirdo. Hopefully, we brought a little more nuance to it than just that, but I think more than it being different sides of a single personality, it's more that they're all universally recognized types. And," he jokes, "Bradley is clearly the nerd."

Countered Cooper: "I feel like we have talked about that aspect," he said, "especially when you consider the writer-director combination and how the team functions as a triumvirate, you know, the three characters specifically. What was interesting to me was that, originally, I felt that Alan and Phil were the pillars and Stu was in the middle. But now having seen the three movies in total, it almost feels like Stu and Phil are the pillars and Alan is the thing that has changed."

Alan is still insane, of course, Galifianakis not far behind.

"I always thought the story behind Alan, I felt, was that he was a DJ at Rave," he said of the West Hollywood nightclub, "just using bad drugs and his mind melted. That's how I feel."

Phillips, who grew up in Dix Hills and whose comedies include "Due Date," "Starsky & Hutch" and "Old School," defended Alan.

"He's always had these unique abilities," Phillips said, "whether it was counting cards or his beautiful singing voice. Little things we find out about Alan, little surprises, where you're like, 'There's something magnificent about this guy.' He's not just a left-footed guy out of step with the rest of the world; there's some beauty there. What do they think the notoriously mother-hating Alan got his mom for Mother's Day?"

"Nothing!" bellowed Galifianakis.

"He sent her anthrax," said Helms.

Phillips laughed. Again. "I've laughed more in the last five years than most people do in a lifetime, just on the set of these movies with these guys," he said. "It's kind of bittersweet because it feels great to have done this thing, which I think people all around the world have enjoyed, but it is sad. Because we have a great rhythm the four of us, or six of us. And we've had a great time working together."

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