erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2012 posts

Thursday August 16, 2012

Movie Review: The Campaign (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“The Campaign” made me laugh out loud but so do cartoons.

There’s a scene where Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), the incumbent Democrat from the 14th district in North Carolina, and his Republican challenger Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), having just finished a televised debate, push and pull and shove one another on the path toward, in the political tradition, a baby ripe for kissing. As they get close, Marty improbably has the upper hand, which so infuriates Cam he decides to coldcock his opponent from behind. But Marty senses this, moves at the last instant, and, in slow-motion, with the horrified faces of everyone in the room reacting, Cam decks the baby instead. In the face, as they say.

"The Campaign" (2012) starring Will Ferrell and Zach GalifianakisI roared when I first saw this scene on “The Daily Show”—and again during the film—but afterwards I couldn’t shake a disquieting thought. Well, that’s the movie then, isn’t it. What candidate can recover from punching a baby in the face in front of the entire press corps?

This one can. Because we’re watching a cartoon. If Jerry drops a safe on Tom’s head, Tom doesn’t die. He just gets back up for the next round. Same here.

Cam, who usually runs unopposed, first gets into trouble when he leaves a sexually explicit message on a family’s answering machine, indicating frequent infidelities, and, rather than wreck him, his numbers simply plummet from 62% to 46%. That’s how Marty, backed by the Koch-inspired Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), joins the race. He’s tubby and fey, with a bad moustache, but he comes from a connected family (Brian Cox is his disappointed father), so he’s tapped for the campaign.

The two trade stupid insults for a few weeks (“He has Chinese dogs”/”He believes in Rainbowland”). Then the Motch brothers send a diabolical campaign manager, Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), to shape up the Huggins family and sharpen Marty’s claws. We get tit for tat. Cam punches the baby, then Uggie the dog from “The Artist.” Marty gets Cam’s son, who never sees his father much, to call him “Daddy” on tape. In response, Cam screws Marty’s wife and builds a campaign commercial around it. In response, on a hunting trip, Marty shoots Cam in the leg. He gets Cam drunk then calls the cops. Cam steals the police car and crashes it. Etc.

Back and forth they go, Tom and Jerry, forever dropping safes on one another and surviving. Some of it is funny, most of it is dumb, but all of it bears only the slightest resemblance to any kind of political reality. Just as Tom approximates a cat, and Jerry a mouse, so Cam and Marty approximate modern American politicians.

Ferrell is basically filtering his W. shtick through a John Edwards filter and turning it up to 11. Galifianakis is reprising his fey “Due Date” character with a touch of sweetener. The Democrat sleeps around (you know), and the Republican is backed by powerful, moneyed interests (you know), who want to make the 14th district a province of China, import cheap Chinese labor, ignore environmental regulations, and thus save on transportation costs. That’s why they’re backing Marty. Of course they don’t tell him until the 11th hour, and of course he rejects their plan. Which means they shift their money and support to Cam. Because it’s all the same. It doesn’t matter. Dem, Repub, whatev. You know. Besides, the electronic voting machines are manufactured by the Motch brothers so they can’t lose. Unless Cam and Marty somehow team up for the greater good of the 14th district...

The movie can’t even get its epigraph right:

“War has rules, mud wrestling has rules—politics has no rules.”
--Ross Perot, presidential candidate, 1988

1988? Perot wasn’t a candidate in ’88. He ran in 1992 and 1996. Or are they suggesting he said it in 1988? That’s wrong, too. He said it in 1996. Besides, it’s hardly a quote worth repeating. War doesn’t have rules, for the victors, and politics does have rules, most of which are unwritten. You can’t slug a baby and keep going, for example. Unless you’re a cartoon.

“The Campaign,” directed by Jay Roach (“Austin Powers”; “Meet the Parents”), and written by Chris Henchy (“The Other Guys”) and Shawn Harwell (“Eastbound and Down”), is political comedy for morons. It wants to show us how dumb the political process is, but, in dumbing down everything, particularly Cam and Marty, they show us how dumb we are. We need characters this stupid in order to be able to laugh at them.

Posted at 07:00 AM on Aug 16, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Sunday August 12, 2012

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

In the last “Bourne” footage we saw, from “The Bourne Ultimatum” in 2007, a silhouetted figure floats in the water. We think he’s dead but he’s not. He’s Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and after a moment he swims away. The End.

In the first shots of “The Bourne Legacy” we see another silhouetted figure floating in the water. We think he’s Jason Bourne but he’s not. He’s the new guy, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who is in the midst of survival training in Alaska, and after a moment he swims away. The Beginning.

Tag off
It was an interesting choice not to reboot the “Bourne” series (which admittedly would’ve been dull stuff), or simply tap Renner to play Bourne (a la the Bond series). Instead, writer-director Tony Gilroy, who wrote the entire “Bourne” trilogy and now gets to direct his first action movie, has his characters, in "The Bourne Legacy" (2012) starring Jeremy Renneressence, “tag off” like in a wrestling match. As Jason Bourne tags off to Aaron Cross, above, so the douchebag government bureaucrats (heretofore: DGBs) tag off. We get reintroduced to such forgotten figures as Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) and Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), as well as the more familiar Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) and Pam Landy (Joan Allen), only to say good-bye to them. They’re replaced by Ret. Adm. Mark Turso, USN (Stacey Keach) and Ret. Col. Eric Byer, USAF (Ed Norton), who have to quell the repercussions of not only the CIA’s “Treadstone” program, which created Bourne, but also “Outcome,” a more sophisticated version of same under the auspices of the Dept. of Defense. And by “quell” I mean, yes, kill everyone involved. As with Watergate, the cover-up (killing U.S. agents) is much worse than the crime (creating U.S. agents to protect America).

The movies tag off, too. During the first half hour, as Cross battles snow and wolves and mountains in Alaska, and arrives at the checkpoint in record time, we get most of the previous movie from Byer’s perspective. He and his DGBs help kill that Guardian journalist in London. They’re up in arms when Bourne shows up in New York. And they’re busy killing their own creations before they too become little Bournes. Outcome #1 gets it in Pakistan, Outcome #4 in Seoul, Outcome #6 in D.C. They all take these pills as part of the program, blues and greens, and they’re simply given a new pill that causes them to bleed from the nose and die. That ends that. Noting more to worry about except our souls.

Except in Alaska. There, two agents, Outcome #s 3 and 5 (Oscar Isaac and Renner), hang in a cabin and warily watch one another. Our man Cross is a little more down-to-earth in his wariness, encouraging chatter, asking the other guy if he has any chems. Blues, specifically. He’s low. Apparently that’s bad.

Then they head outside. “You hearing that?” Cross asks. (We don’t.) “We should spread,” Cross says. A few seconds later, as he’s making his way toward higher ground, a missile obliterates the cabin. When the DOD kills someone in Alaska, they don’t have to be subtle about it.

At this point, all of Cross’ bio-engineered training clicks into place, and he runs, and blinds a drone airplane with a rifle shot, and covers up the tracking device in his hip; then he surgically removes it and force-feeds it to a wolf (I know), who is ultimately the one, poor critter, to go sky-high when the drones come calling.

The ‘Charly’ Legacy
What motivated Jason Bourne? He was a superagent who developed amnesia and needed to find out who he was, then tracked his creators to their lair. He’s basically Frankenstein. He’s the chickens coming home to roost.

What motivates Aaron Cross? He needs pills, man. It’s panic in pharmaceutical park. Apparently if he doesn’t get them, he’ll revert to his old self, which was a bit of a dim bulb. It’s “Charly” as action movie.

I.e., if the point of Bourne was to get closer to who he was, the point of Cross is to keep his old self at a distance.

So he heads back to the lab in D.C., where he got his pills, but which, he reads in the newspaper, has suffered a recent tragic event. One of the doctors there went nuts and killed every other scientist—save one. The pretty one, thankfully: Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Yes, this is Byer’s handiwork.

There’s a good scene, post-shooting, at the old home Marta is renovating in the isolated woods of Maryland. Federal agents show up, including Dr. Connie Dowd (Elizabeth Marvel), who mixes faux concern for Marta’s state of mind with real concern for the company’s bottom line, which will ring true to anyone who’s ever dealt with a corporate HR dept. That’s the brilliance of the scene. They’re planning on killing her but first they make her twist a bit. They invade her space mentally, then physically, then they’re forcing her gun to her temple and she’s crying out and we’re hoping for a savior. Hey! Here comes one. I mock now but it’s well-done. Aaron arrives and in lickety-split fashion takes out the agents. Then he burns down the house.

Now they’re on the lam together. He needs pills, she wants to live. They argue. He’s got some low-key working-class resentments, which I like. But Gilroy gives us way too much exposition here, which I don’t. Gilroy is the writer-director who can’t kill his little darlings. He needs us to hear them. So we get talk about “viral-reception mapping” and the like. We also get a bit of a lie—the idea that Marta has to stick with Aaron rather than go public with her story. “Could you ever sing it loud enough or fast enough to make sure they won’t kill you?” he asks. Me in the audience: Yes. Let’s face it: Marta, at this point, is not just anyone. She’s national news, the survivor of the lab shootings, and her house has just been burned to the ground. That alone should twitch any reporter’s antennae. If I were her I would walk in the front door of the Washington Post or Baltimore Sun or CNN. No, I would email Andrew Sullivan or upload a video onto YouTube. I would tweet or status update: U.S. government trying to kill me. Jennifer S.: “Doing your taxes? LOL.” Come on, Hollywood. It’s 2012. Get with it. Turn on, plug in, upload.

Instead we head to the Philippines. There are no more blue pills, apparently, but in the lab there, with the original virus, she can “viral off” Aaron’s need for blues and make the effect permanent. It’ll take nearly a day to get there, sure, but they have a headstart because the DGBs think both of them are dead.

Until they don’t. The DGBs figure it all out by combing through every surveillance cam in the Maryland/D.C. area, spotting her, and, eventually, in passenger manifests, they find... oh my god! Cross! Immediately they know where they are and why, and contact both the med-lab plant in Manila and a Bangkok assassin to fly there and take him out. Government agencies are never so frighteningly efficient as in Hollywood movies.

By this point she’s already viraled him off (cough); but there’s a fever, and by the time it subsides the assassin, LARX #3 (Louis Ozawa Changchien), is blocks away, sniffing, even as the Manila police, alerted by the U.S. government, close in. We get rooftop chases and footraces and zipping motorcycles through Manila traffic. I’m not much of a fan of the car chase but this one’s done well. The surprise? It’s the end. LARX buys it, they are bruised and shot, but they chart a boat for open waters. There, safe, Marta suddenly acts flirtatious. “Are we lost?” she asks. “No,” I was looking at our options,” Aaron says, suddenly serious with maps. “I was kinda hoping we were lost,” she responds with a smile. Camera pullback. Gorgeous scenery. The end.

It’s a shock because nothing’s been resolved.  OK, one thing: Cross won’t revert back. But that’s it. It’s open-ended.

The Bourne weight
I should say, again, that I like Renner. He’s got verve, and snap, and a human face; I wouldn’t mind seeing him in some Jimmy Cagney roles. There’s a good supporting cast, too: Isaac in the Alaskan cabin,  Marvel as the agent/HR director, Corey Stoll (last scene as Hemingway in “Midnight in Paris”) on Byer’s team. I like what Shane Jacobons, pungently Aussie, did with his throwaway role as the lab foreman in the Philippines.

But there’s too much weight from the previous trilogy, and Gilroy, as good as he is, loves his expository darlings too much. And where do we go from here? Will the next movie involve more amoral, relentless pursuit, a la Javert, or will Cross turn and attack his creators, a la Frankenstein, or will we get both? And would any of this be new?

Here’s a way to make it new. The movie’s tagline is “There was never just one,” and that’s true at the end. Jason Bourne still lives. Time to team up. Either that or have Cross email Andrew Sullivan. Get the fucking story out already. See if anyone gives a shit.

That’s what I’m waiting for, actually. These types of movies hinge on the notion that immoral government acts must be hidden, swept away, before the press, and thus the American public, find out. But what if a scandal broke and nobody cared? Is it still a scandal? That’s the cinematic moment I want: When the Byers of the world realize the carte blanche given them by the American public’s boundless ability for distraction and apathy.

Posted at 07:31 AM on Aug 12, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Wednesday August 08, 2012

Movie Review: Haywire (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“You like her?”

“I love her.”

That was Patricia on Gina Carano, a kickboxer and mixed martial artist from Dallas, Tex., playing Mallory Kane, a black ops specialist and soldier-for-hire in Steven Soderbergh’s indie-actioner “Haywire.”

poster for "Haywire" starring Gina CaranoQuestion: Has any leading lady, in one movie, kicked the ass of so many handsome leading men? Carano goes off on Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor. Antonio Banderas is implied.

Further: Has any low-budget actioner had such an acclaimed director working with such a stellar cast? Too bad the results are mixed martial arts. We wind up with the slow pace, jumbled chronology, and general murkiness of an indie combined with the dull tropes of an actioner.

It begins well. Kane, sporting fetching scars on her beautiful face, crosses a winter road in upstate New York and into a roadside diner. She takes a back booth, orders tea, sips. Then she sees Aaron (Tatum) pull up. “Shit,” she says. He joins her, orders coffee, and the two talk in vague terms about him being on vacation, and Barcelona, and what went wrong there. Basically: she’s accused (of something), he’s there to bring her in, but she doesn’t want to go. So we get our first fight. Not only does she win but she takes a hostage, Scott (Michael Angarano). As they drive, she tells him her story, or backstory. We get to watch.

She’s a soldier-for-hire, working for Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), who is often contracted by State (Michael Douglas). She and her team, including Aaron, extract a Chinese journalist from Barcelona for Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas), who has a relationship with State. Or is he with State? It’s all rather murky. As it’s supposed to be.

The job goes well enough. She chases down one loose end because she doesn’t like loose ends, and because it gives us a good footchase through Las Ramblas, then beds Aaron and returns home. But Kenneth is there, too, with another assignment. Something about accompanying Paul (Michael Fassbender) on a job in... is it Dublin? It’s an easy gig. The job requires a power couple and Paul needs a better half. Despite her assets, she’s there for looks. “I don't even know how to play that,” she says. “I don't wear the dress. Make Paul wear the dress.”

But she acquiesces, shows up, gets suspicious. Why? Not sure. Maybe she’s always suspicious. She plays the tipsy wife but tracks Paul’s cell and discovers, under a bed in a stable near a swanky hotel, our Chinese journalist. Dead.

Huh.

Then Paul tries to kill her. Then she’s on the run.

Some not-bad chase scenes. Chance  and serendipity play a bigger role than usual. At one point, she winds up in a blind alley and waits to attack her pursuers (hapless garda), when the back door of a nearby restaurant opens, a bus boy with trash, and she bolts inside. At another point, as she and Scott, her upstate New York hostage, are in the midst of escaping the police, she runs into a deer, which is how she’s caught.

There are several showdowns. Basically she moves up the ladder of murky accountability. Paul gets it in Dublin, Kenneth in South America, and Rodrigo, the true mastermind, back in Spain. “Shit,” he says when he sees her. Which is how the movie ends. Using the word with which it began.

But what’s the unraveled story again? Someone wanted the Chinese journalist dead; Kenneth feared Mallory leaving his company and taking his clients with her. So two birds. The Chinaman gets it (making who happy?), and the crime can be blamed on Mallory. But, in the tradition of actioners, she fights back.

The dialogue from Lem Dobbs, who has worked with Soderbergh before (“Kafka” (1991) and “The Limey” (1999), is David-Mamet minimalist with a tendency toward smartness. “I like the idea of me doing my job,” Rodrigo says, “more than the idea of someone else doing my job.” Later in the movie, when talking motivations, Kenneth says, “It’s always about money.”

But there are loose ends and I don’t like loose ends. Why is Mallory telling Scott her story? Why does he seem to care about her? And why is the Chinese journalist killed in Dublin? Why not do it in Barcelona and take her out there as well? Why the necessity of bringing her along on a second mission to blame her for the first?

And why call it “Haywire”?

Miss Carano, whose voice was lowered post-production, is enough of a hit to get Patricia’s appreciation, but there are just too many misses. The movie’s first word is “Shit,” its last word is “Shit,” and there’s too much shit in between.

Posted at 08:29 AM on Aug 08, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Friday August 03, 2012

Movie Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

As it begins, one thinks “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is about deprivation but it’s actually about defiance and celebration. One thinks, “How sad that people have to live like that,” when they battle everything—governmental agencies, sickness, global warming, and, yes, prehistoric beasts unleashed by global warming—to keep living like that. This is our home, they’re saying. We shall not be moved.

Me? I’d move in a second. All that garbage and mud? Those shacks? That sickness and drunken nothingness? As a result, I was at odds with the movie’s emotional core. I’m way too fastidious. I wanted to flee the very place they embraced.

poster: Beasts of the Southern WildThe heart of the movie is Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a fierce, independent, six-year-old girl living on the wrong side of the levee in a bayou about to be swept away by global warming; but she is inculcated by her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), to keep living there. At one point Wink takes Hushpuppy out in a homemade boat, patched together from what others have thrown away, and they gaze at factories and smokestacks on the other side of the levee. They’re outsiders but not envious. “Ain’t that ugly over there,” he says, adding, “We got the prettiest place on Earth.”

Left unspoken is the fact that those ugly factories and smoke stacks are contributing to the global warming that’s about to wash away their home, which is the prettiest place on Earth.

We get their story by and by. Writer-director Benh Zeitlin tells us little, shows us more. Here’s Hushpuppy, walking around in white rubber boots, and listening to the heartbeats of the animals they keep in their ramshackle home. Here’s Wink, drinking and talking with neighbors about a storm coming and waters rising. Here’s another harsh lesson from Wink to Hushpuppy: “Every animal is made out of meat,” he says. “I’m meat. Y’all ass is meat.” Hushpuppy tries to make sense of this. She tries to balance sympathy and survival. She knows, without the protections she’s had from her father, “I wouldn’t even be Hushpuppy. I’d just be breakfast.”

Then Wink disappears. Has he fled? Has he been killed or incarcerated? When he shows up again, angry and stumbling, he’s in a blue hospital gown with a plastic ID bracelet around his wrist. He’s sick but doesn’t want their cure. He doesn’t want Hushpuppy’s help. The fierce independence he drums into her—that he feels she needs to survive—comes from him. “Who’s the man!” he yells at her at one point. “I’m the man!” she shouts back.

When the storms come, and Hushpuppy is scared, Wink goes outside to rage against it—to show her there’s nothing to be scared of. The waters rise. Some survive. Against the instincts of a maternal teacher in the bayou, Wink and others, using an alligator stuffed with dynamite, lead a nighttime assault that blows up a portion of the levee. The waters recede. We see the residents sort through what’s left. We see Hushpuppy find medicine for her father, which she dribbles onto his mouth while he’s sick and sleeping. Then the authorities come and suddenly we’re in a clean hospital. Hushpuppy is wearing a little blue dress and her beautiful wild hair is tamed. “It didn’t look like a prison,” she says in voiceover. “It looked like a fish tank with no water.” Prison or not, they still need to break out, and do. They still need to make their way back home.

Early on, from the maternal teacher, we hear a story of prehistoric beasts called aurochs, and as the polar ice cap melts we see these beasts, looking like giant warthogs, trapped in the ice, then free and roaming, and snuffling, and thundering closer and closer. At first I thought it was a metaphor for all the bad shit going down and coming down. It’s not. As Hushpuppy and three other girls make their way back to the bayou, the thundering gets louder, they look behind them, scream and run. All but Hushpuppy. She stands her ground. She faces down these beasts, to whom she knows she’s breakfast, and tells them, in essence, she’s Hushpuppy, daughter of Wink, and will not be moved. It’s a great scene: this tiny fierce face against this vast monstrosity. You can still call it a metaphor—it certainly works as a metaphor—but it’s most obviously wish fulfillment: ours and Wink’s. It’s also the film’s climax: Wink’s work is done. He can die now, knowing Hushpuppy can survive without him.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” arrived in Seattle with a kind of thunder of its own, Manohla Dargis’, who declared in The New York Times that the film was “among the best films to play at Sundance in two decades.” I went in hoping to be blown away. I wasn’t.

Quvenzhané Wallis is stunning and should hear Oscar talk. Dwight Henry is good. The filmmakers mix elements of both Katrina and global warming into a “We shall not be moved” ethos. But I wasn’t moved. I wanted the movie to crack me open, like a levee, but it didn’t. I remained an outsider. I looked at the muddy, ramshackle place they loved, the prettiest place on earth, and thought, “Ain’t that ugly over there.”

Posted at 08:38 AM on Aug 03, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Monday July 30, 2012

Movie Review: Ted (2012)

WAHNIN’: SPOILAHS

There are belly laughs in Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted” but afterwards I felt depressed and unclean.

“Ted” is a movie about a miracle that gets usurped by the worst 1980s pop-culture crap. It’s about putting away childish things when the main character doesn’t. The two central characters, John Bennett and Lori Collins (Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis), are both nice, good-looking people but most everyone around them is a douchebag, a sap, creepy, or depressingly stupid. A nighttime chase scene winds up at Fenway Park and I thought, “Can’t we have one movie set in Boston that doesn’t wind up at Fenway Park?” Retahded.

But it’s mostly the pop-culture crap, and the waste it signifies, that got me down.

Movie poster for Seth MacFarlane's "Ted" (2012)The movie opens in a nice middle-class neighborhood. It’s Christmastime. Snow is falling gently on the ground, the kids are building snowmen, and it’s that time of year, we’re informed by the narrator (Patrick Stewart), when all the little children ... beat up on the Jewish kids. Little John Bennett is the nice kid in the neighborhood who leaves his house as it’s happening, as four gentiles are beating up on a curly-haired Jewish kid, and he asks, innocently, if anyone wants to play. Everyone pauses in the beating to tell him to get lost—including the Jewish kid. “Yeah, Bennett,” he says, “Get lost!” That’s the first time I belly laughed.

For Christmas John gets a teddy bear, and that night he wishes it could talk to him for real, that it could be his friend for real. A shooting star goes by. Next morning, this miracle has happened.

Initially we wonder if it’s going to be a “Mr. Ed” thing, where nobody will see Ted walking and talking but John. Nope. His parents see and freak. Next thing we know, Ted is on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. He’s a hit. He’s a celebrity. Which is when Patrick Stewart informs us of the first rule of celebrity: “Eventually nobody gives a shit.” And that happens to Ted.

We cut to 2012 and John, now 35,  and Ted are hanging out on the couch, getting high, eating Sugar Pops cereal and watching Sam Jones in the 1980 camp classic “Flash Gordon.” Ted, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, talks about how ugly Boston girls are. He does a bit mocking the Boston girl mid-orgasm: “Hahdah, hahdah.” The two talk about how “Flash Gordon” is the all-American movie: a football quarterback goes into outer space to save the world. What could be better? They both agree Patriots QB Tom Brady could totally do that. Then John realizes it’s 9:30 and he’s already late for work at Liberty Rent-a-Car, where he’s hoping to hang on long enough to make a $37K a year job. Since he’s too high, Ted drives him there.

Can I pause for a moment? I just hate this kind of thing. I hate it when a movie gives us a transformative event but doesn’t recognize it as such. The filmmakers are so intent on their own metaphor, or have so little faith in humanity, that they assume we’ll see the transformative event as akin to, I don’t know, the iPad, or “Home Alone,” and, after a flurry of activity, we’ll forget about it.

So in “District 9,” the transformative event is aliens landing on Earth, the metaphor is “aliens as persecuted minority,” and that’s what they become, and that’s all they become. So in “Ted,” an inanimate object becomes a living, sentient being through prayer. In the real world, entire religions would be built around him. Thousands would descend upon John, demanding that he pray for them, too. The law would get involved (does Ted have civil rights?), as would science (exactly how is he alive?), and the military (can John animate other inanimate objects—like weapons?). But writer-director Seth MacFarlane (“Family Guy”) would rather wallow in gags about ’80s pop culture. Ted, a true Christmas miracle, simply becomes a fuzzier version of Gary Coleman: a cute star in the 1980s who struggles to find his way in the 2000s.

MacFarlane steeps us in ’80s nostalgia. During John’s first date with Lori, four years earlier, they watch “Octopussy” together. When he recalls the party where they met on the dance floor, it’s an almost frame-by-frame remake of the “Saturday Night Fever” parody sequence in “Airplane.” “Flash Gordon” keeps getting referenced, and Sam Jones, its star, eventually shows up, and they all party and do coke together, which causes Lori to break up with John, who tries to win her back by crashing Norah Jones’ concert and singing “All Time High,” the theme from “Octopussy,” to Lori in the audience.

There are also references to Sinead O’Connor, Tom Skerrit, “Top Gun,” “T.J. Hooker,” and “Aliens,” while the villain, Donny (an incredibly creepy Giovanni Ribisi), who covets Ted, wants to buy him, and then kidnaps him, dances to Tiffany singing her mall-hit, “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

Ick.

We see the conflict between Lori and Ted coming a mile off, and, to MacFarlane’s credit, he doesn’t draw it out. Lori wants Ted out, John is straightforward with him, Ted gets his own place and a job as a cashier at a supermarket, where he bangs the cute cashier, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth, who has an early Denise Richards thing going) on top of the produce in the back. For which he gets promoted.

There are funny bits. Ted tells off the grocery store manager, who admits he’s not used to being talked to that way. “That’s because everyone’s mouth is usually full of your wife’s box,” Ted replies.

There are sweet bits. Lori says, “I know I’m not a talking teddy bear but at least you didn’t have to make a wish to get me.” John replies, “How do you know?”

Wahlberg is, again, quite good as another sweet, laid-back dude who can throw a punch when he needs to. And the look of pure joy on his face when he first sees Sam Jones is adorable. But he’s playing a guy who eats Sugar Pops and gets high all the time and he still looks like Mark Wahlberg? Please. Plus I wouldn’t mind seeing him show the fire he showed in “The Departed” again. At least once. In a leading role.

Ultimately “Ted” is a celebration of stupid people liking stupid shit. One assumes that MacFarlane, as funny as he is, is one of these people. He has the chance to say something about miracles, or the emptiness of nostalgia, but we don’t even get the “putting away childish things” lesson. During a chase, Ted gets torn, and dies, but he’s brought back to life by Lori, who makes her own wish on a shooting star. Apparently this is the only wish God grants: Bringing Ted to life. So he can make pussy jokes. Plus jokes about Mexicans and the Chinese, who are, like, totally hilarious. The way they talk.

If it’s any consolation, I don’t like “Family Guy,” either.

Posted at 07:02 AM on Jul 30, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Deb Ellis
Andrew Engelson
Jerry Grillo
Tim Harrison
Eric Hanson
Ben Stocking
Jim Walsh
dative-querulous