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It’s the chicken that defines the first “Hangover.”

You know the one I’m talking about: the snow-white pullet that clucks through the wrecked Vegas hotel suite occupied by the picture’s debauched, drugged-out heroes. The moment that bird appears, the movie blasts off to comedy heaven.

Questions come thick and fast: What the heck happened here? What’s with the tiger in the bathroom? What’s with the baby on the floor? And what’s the deal with that chicken, anyway?

The answers are unexpected, and hilarious. With that chicken as a symbol of the picture’s singularly screwy sensibility, a hit was born.

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“The Hangover” stood just fine as a self-contained stand-alone. But because it was a megahit, the people who made it couldn’t quit. There came a sequel, which slavishly copies the original.

Now there’s “The Hangover Part III.” It, too, has a chicken. Several, in fact. And those birds also define the picture. A few are shot. Others are hurled out a high window. And then there’s one that is slowly suffocated to death under a pillow held by Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), the least appealing character in the franchise. The comedy in this is where, exactly?

It’s a question that occurs earlier when a giraffe is beheaded. It recurs later on, when two dogs are gratuitously killed. The violence moves up the food chain, to the execution-style murders of several human characters.

This is an ugly, angry picture. Todd Phillips, the man who directed all three and co-wrote the last two “Hangovers,” seems to have gone out of his way to take a blowtorch to the goodwill he earned from the original.

He sends wolfpack buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) on a road trip that takes them to Tijuana then back to Vegas as they try to track down the insanely vicious Chow, who has stolen a trove of gold bars from an evil character, Marshall, played with maximum humorlessness by John Goodman. If they fail to find the thief and return the gold, Marshall promises to kill their other buddy, Doug (Justin Bartha), whom he is holding hostage.

Near the end, the main characters are seen sitting in a car with drained, horror-struck expressions on their faces. After enduring “III,” one totally feels their pain.

Soren Andersen:

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