Ted 2


Ted and Tammi-Lynn experience some marital bliss.

Ted and Tammi-Lynn experience some marital bliss.

(2015) Comedy (Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi, Morgan Freeman, John Carroll Lynch, Sam J. Jones, Patrick Warburton, Michael Dorn, Bill Smitrovich, John Slattery, Cocoa Brown, Ron Canada, Liam Neeson, Dennis Haysbert, Patrick Stewart (voice), Tom Brady, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Kate MacKinnon. Directed by Seth MacFarlane

When you get a movie that’s as popular as Ted was, a sequel is inevitable. Just because a movie was popular though, doesn’t necessarily mean a sequel is advisable.

Ted (MacFarlane) is marrying his sweetheart Tammi-Lynn (Barth), the two having met at the grocery store where they’re both employed. Performing the ceremony is their hero Sam J. Jones – Flash Gordon himself. Things are looking up for Ted. Celebrating, albeit with more restraint is his best friend and thunder buddy John Bennett (Wahlberg) who is still stinging from a divorce from long-time girl Lori.

Still, John has always been there for Ted and vice versa so he supports his friend all the way and Ted settles into married life. Nobody ever explained to the magically animated teddy bear however that marriage isn’t easy. Ted and Tammi-Lynn begin to fight and it looks like the two might be headed for Divorceville. However, Ted gets the idea from a co-worker that the best way to fix up a broken marriage is to have a baby and at first, it seems that it’s just what the doctor ordered; Tammi-Lynn is ecstatic at the thought of being a mommy.

However, there are some hurdles to overcome. Ted isn’t, how can we put this, anatomically correct so they’ll have to go the artificial insemination route. Of course, Ted wants only the best and after trying to get a few well-known sperm donors (including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady) and failing, Ted “settles” for his buddy John’s…umm, seed.

When it turns out that Tammi-Lynn can’t carry a baby to term, adoption seems the only way left. However, Ted’s attempts to adopt a baby turn back on him unexpectedly when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who have never weighed in on Ted’s legal status in the 30 years or so he’s been around, suddenly now declare that an animated teddy bear does not have the rights that a regular human being has. At least, a straight one (until recently).

Stung that he is now considered property, Ted fights back in the courts, utilizing pretty but inexperienced lawyer Samantha L. Jackson (Seyfried). Unbeknownst to them however, Ted’s nemesis Donny (Ribisi) is plotting with Hasbro’s amoral CEO (Lynch) to get Ted back, dissect him, find out what makes him tick and manufacture millions of animated teddy bears just like him. Can Ted win his freedom and have the life he truly wants?

MacFarlane is something of a renaissance man, being a crooner, an actor, a writer and director, sometimes all at once. He’s really the Quentin Tarantino of comedy, very aware of pop culture and excessively cool about it. While his first movie, Ted, was a huge hit, the follow-up, last year’s A Million Ways to Die in the West was a bomb and surprisingly not very funny. MacFarlane is the kind of comic writer who tends to throw a ton of stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Sometimes you can come up with comedy gems that way but you also leave a lot of foul-smelling garbage that didn’t stick at the base of the wall.

Wahlberg is getting a touch long in the tooth to play the immature drunk/stoner in many ways although I suspect that’s part of the joke. He still has the ability to be boyishly charming and pulls it off, although not as well as he did in the first film. In fact, the bond between Ted and John is at the center of what works about the movie.

Most of the rest of the cast is essentially window dressing for the two leads, although Seyfried is game enough to be a lawyer with a taste for good weed as well as the love interest for Wahlberg. Freeman has a brief cameo as a civil rights lawyer and Neeson a briefer one as a suspicious shopper who worries that as an adult eating Trix – which are clearly for kids – he might end up being prosecuted.

While the heart is here, the comedy isn’t. Too much of the comedy doesn’t work and one gets a feel that MacFarlane is more or less going through the motions here. Not being a brilliant writer and pop culture commentator as MacFarlane is (his Family Guy continues to offer fresh commentary on 21st century America), I might be way off here but I don’t get the sense that there really was anywhere for MacFarlane to go with the characters other than to make them more foul-mouthed, more disgusting and more stoned. There’s nothing fun – or funny – about seeing other people get high. This is better seen while seriously baked in the privacy of your own home I’m thinking. I suspect a lot of people who have seen the movie straight will agree with me.

REASONS TO GO: The movie still retains the sweetness of the first.
REASONS TO STAY: Not nearly as funny as the first movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Much of the humor is crude and of a sexual nature. There’s also a whole lot of nasty language and some drug use. Okay, much drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mila Kunis was approached to reprise her role as Lori, John’s girlfriend, but was unable to due to her pregnancy. Her part was written out of the movie and a new love interest was found for John.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Million Ways to Die in the West
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Slow West

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The Back-Up Plan


The Back-Up Plan

Jennifer Lopez shows how many times Alex O'Loughlin takes off his shirt in the movie.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (CBS) Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Loughlin, Eric Christian Olsen, Melissa McCarthy, Michaela Watkins, Danneel Harris, Noureen DeWulf, Anthony Anderson, Tom Bosley, Maribeth Monroe, Robert Klein, Linda Lavin, Cesar Millan. Directed by Alan Poul

Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. We make plans, have an idea in mind as to what we want out of life. When things don’t go as expected, it’s good to have a back-up plan.

Zoe (Lopez) thought she had it all figured out; great job, get married, have a few rug rats, presto blammo life is sweet. The problem is that none of her boyfriends were working out (men being what they are) and the old biological clock is beginning to tick just a hair louder. Therefore, Zoe makes the decision to go the man-less route in having kids.

Yup, we’re talking artificial insemination. Zoe goes to a fertility clinic where a kindly old doctor (Klein) does the procedure and she gets all knocked up. Giddy from the news, Zoe leaves the clinic on a stormy afternoon and gets into a cab. Trouble is, Stan (O’Loughlin who filmed this just before finding stardom in the TV reboot of “Hawaii Five-O”) spotted the cab at exactly the same time. The two argue and Zoe eventually gives up the cab because she doesn’t want to spoil her great mood.

Of course, now the two of them see each other everywhere. This is the Hollywood God Mechanism, cinematic deities sending none-too-subtle messages that the two were meant to be together. And of course, they are. This is a romantic comedy, after all. The two fall in love but Stan isn’t aware that Zoe has a bun in the oven and Zoe isn’t about to tell him because he might bolt. Boyfriends are a lot like deer that way, skittish.

Eventually she breaks down and tells him and Stan being a Great Guy (you can tell right away he’s a great guy because he’s an organic farmer selling his organic goat cheese at a Tribeca farmers market) doesn’t bat an eyelash but takes on the responsibility of being not only a boyfriend but a father to be – without any genetic connection or legal requirement. I can picture half the single moms in the audience sighing “Why can’t I meet a guy like that?” particularly when Stan shows up shirtless on a tractor, a kind of Chippendale’s farmer get-up.

Of course this is a Hollywood rom-com so there are going to be issues. The couple is going to break up. Are they going to get back together again? Are you kidding? C’mon, you know what the answer to that is.

Lopez is one of those actresses that has a great deal of talent is sadly aware that she has a great deal of talent. One gets the impression that she has a person in her entourage whose sole purpose is to tell her what a great deal of talent that she has. I’m not saying that she’s egotistical, but she seemed to be a much better performer before she became a Big Star. Even in Anaconda, as ludicrous a horror movie as has ever hit the big screen, she was more natural an actress.

I have to admit though, that she is really charming here. It’s as if that entourage flunky has been given the new responsibility to remind her that she doesn’t have to be Jenny from the block 24-7. She can be Zoe instead, a kind of meek and sweet girl. This is the kind of performance that made her a star in the first place.

O’Loughlin turns out to be an appealing romantic lead; together with his cop action persona in Five-O could well parlay that into stardom of his own. The supporting players are for the most part forgettable, although Klein has a few good moments and Anthony Anderson gets a really great scene as a playground dad telling Stan about the joys and pitfalls of being a dad.

Like most Hollywood romantic comedies, this is as wispy and sugary as cotton candy and just as forgettable. It is a pleasant diversion for as long as it’s there, but not long after it’s gone you might feel hungry for something more substantial. It does at least give me hope that Lopez is capable of better than we’ve been seeing from her lately, and that in itself is worthwhile.

WHY RENT THIS: Lopez is as engaging and charming as she’s ever been. O’Loughlin is an appealing leading man.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: As with most Hollywood rom-coms, very formulaic.

FAMILY VALUES: Being as the movie is about being pregnant, there are a lot of pregnancy and sexual jokes herein; there’s a tiny bit of bad language and some mature themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the late Tom Bosley’s final film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77.5M on a $35M production budget; the movie broke even and even made a little bit of money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Dream House

The Switch


The Switch

Jason Bateman is a little too happy to be holding someone else's sperm.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Miramax) Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Thomas Robinson, Todd Louiso, Caroline Dhavernas, Scott Elrod, Kelli Barrett, Bryce Robinson, Edward James Hyland.  Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon

In the 21st century, families and children are becoming more and more complex as technology whizzes ahead of our moral compasses which are spinning like a top trying to keep up. The fact of the matter is that we are going to run into all sorts of grey area situations if we’re not careful.

Kassie (Aniston) is a TV producer pushing 40 who loves her job which has interfered with her romantic life. Now seeing her biological clock ticking down to zero and no boyfriends in sight, she has made the decision to be artificially inseminated. To that end, she has chosen a donor from an Internet ad – Roland (Wilson). He’s tan with nice teeth and a gosh darn kind of attitude, but there’s one problem – he’s not Wally.

Wally Mars (Bateman) is Kassie’s best friend. He’s also got a list of neuroses that would stump the editors of Psychology Today. A shameless hypochondriac and commitment-phobe, he and Kassie hang out together and do all sorts of things together. They’re definitely best friends and you get a sense that both of them want more – they just don’t know how to get there from where they were.

So when Kassie throws a party to celebrate her impending motherhood, Wally is a little uncomfortable with the crassness of the proceedings and to be honest, with the thought of losing his friend. Drunk, he goes into the bathroom only to find the sperm sample that will be transported to the hospital later that evening. You can guess what happens next (no, you really can – it’s in the trailer).

For those who can’t guess, through a series of imbecilic drunken moves, Wally accidentally spills the other man’s seed (and wouldn’t Freud have a field day with that) and resolves to replace it with his own, using a magazine cover of Diane Sawyer as wacking material, which must make for the most uncomfortable time Diane Sawyer’s ever had at the movies.

Frustrated with her best friends inability to support her decision and with a job offer in Minnesota, Kassie slips through Wally’s fingers despite the best intentions of Wally’s friend and co-worker Leonard (Goldblum) who tries to urge Wally to pursue the woman he obviously loves; Wally’s fears won’t allow that to happen.

Years later, Kassie returns with son Sebastian (T. Robinson) in tow. However, Sebastian has many of Wally’s mannerisms – and hypochondria. Wally is torn between telling Kassie the truth – with impending nuptials to the would-be baby daddy Roland hanging overhead, or letting her find her own happiness.

Like many romantic comedies, there is a certain formula here but in defense of the directing team of Speck and Gordon, the movie derives from a short story which has a lot to do with the formulaic aspects of the film. However, the movie also keeps that framework to a bare minimum, allowing the story to go off on a few tangents which are happily received.

So we have an interesting teaming of Bateman and Aniston, chemistry that you wouldn’t think works. And for the most part, it doesn’t. However both are undoubtedly charming and it takes them both a long way in this movie. It’s another typically Aniston role with a professional woman “saving” a man in his 40s and let’s face it, no movie that relies on Aniston’s charm is going to be all bad.

Bateman has rapidly become one of the most reliable comedic leads in Hollywood. Part of his strength is his ability to stretch into a variety of roles, from genuine nice guy to unapologetic schlubb. He’s not super-handsome and he doesn’t have the natural comedic talents of Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell, but he does comedy well. He can be both straight man and punch line deliverer, and occasionally is both at once.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jeff Goldblum. Always a quirky character actor, he steals scenes with the rapacity of a Wall Street CEO. He’s developed into a fine character actor, and I hope we see him far more often onscreen than we have been.

The problem here is that this movie wants to be a sitcom at times and at others wants to be an R-rated comedy. I really really wish they’d gone for the latter; I think the movie would have worked much better in that venue. Still, it’s a solid movie that has some rather adult themes and some moments of sheer brilliance, but not enough of them to make this a classic. For one thing, it’s subverted by its need to be a PG-13 comedy. Why any studio executive wanted to make a romantic comedy about artificial insemination a PG-13 is beyond my feeble brainpower.

WHY RENT THIS: Bateman does a crackerjack job as the neurotic lead. Goldblum is a crack-up, stealing scene after scene.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sitcom-ish at times. It might have worked better as an R-rated comedy.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes are certainly mature and there is a good deal of sexuality including some nudity. There’s also a fair amount of bad language and a scene or two containing drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first movie to be released by Miramax after being sold by the Walt Disney Company.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a blooper real along with all the usual suspects.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $49.8M on a $19M production budget; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Hellboy: The Golden Army