Fox once saw so much potential in Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy. But when no one wanted to watch it, Fox pulled the trigger on it and canceled it in 2001. Then a few years later it was released on DVD and the hardcore fans of the show (like me) bought it and finally had a way to show people what they missed. The DVD sales were so high for that show that Fox reconsidered its decision to end the show, brought it back and it's been a money-grab ever since. It took no one seeing it for everyone to love it. Sadly, I think that's the same fate in store for Ted.
A movie about a little boy who wishes that his favorite teddy bear comes alive and remains his best friend forever is the stuff of the worst kind of children's movies. It's the kind of plot that is literally the kind of thing you laugh out loud at and then feel bad for Eddie Murphy for starring in it. But when you mention that it's all from the mind of Seth MacFarlane and it's an R-rated comedy, most people couldn't be back on board faster.
Not only is it painfully obvious from the opening minutes that this is from the mind of the man who made Family Guy, it keeps that same playful, offensive, random tone through the whole film. If you love the bizarre flashbacks and fantasy scenes that play out in the show, then Ted won't let you down. It's actually a ton more impressive to me that they did still do that considering how much more expensive it is to pull it off with live action. And don't think for a second that because this is MacFarlane's first feature film that he kept the references somewhat grounded in popular culture; a bulk of the film centers around Ted and his human bestie, John's, obsession with the 1980 cinematic so-bad-it's-good turd Flash Gordon. My wife didn't understand a single reference to the film but enjoyed it all the same.
Mark Wahlberg stars as John, a guy who is letting his friendship with Ted come between him and his adulthood and relationship with Mila Kunis. Wahlberg is a fine actor and able to pull of comedy quite well, but don't expect a lot from any of the humans in the film. The only actual person that provides enough funny to be note-worthy is Giovanni Ribsi (Avatar, Cold Mountain) who relishes playing creepy, slimey characters and does it so well even in a comedy like this.
The real star of this film is MacFarlane's script. The laughs come one-after-another and don't stop and get relentless at times. You can tell that he is steeped in television expierence where you have to cram as much as you can into 22-minutes. Here he has two hours to fill but makes you exhausted with how fast the comedy comes at you. Unfortunately the plot is nothing new and nothing original. The story is predictable and removed of any soul or emotion (despite what Kunis said in an interview you can hear below). Because of that, the film offers cheap, cringe-worthy jokes and nothing more...but let's cut the crap, that's all you're looking for and really all you want. Ted (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+
Director Brett Ratner is not known for comedy; he’s known more for action films like Red Dragon or X-Men 3. Granted, the man did the Rush Hour series, but I’m not really sure if you can legally consider those movies comedies since they’re so unfunny. But Tower Heist is a comedy compiled of a varsity team of laugh makers. Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck (Oceans 11, Gone Baby Gone), Michael Pena (30 Minutes of Less, Crash), Judd Hirsch (Taxi, Independence Day) and Alan Alda (M*A*S*H, The Aviator) all star in this movie about the 1% stealing money from the 99%. It’s funnier than Rush Hour but still not the great comedy it should be.
Tower Heist is a very timely plot. The relevancy of a rich Bernie Madoff type stealing pensions and life savings from the people who work in his luxury Manhattan condo building he lives in is exactly the revenge story this country needs right now. It’s fun to watch Alda get his vintage, Steve McQueen Ferari smashed by Still with a golf club. It’s as if each strike is a victory for the Occupy Wall St. protestors. In that respect, the film is a true success, but might have been better if it was handled as a thriller instead of a comedy.
Spicing up the comedic premises are some very talented actors. Leading the charge is Murphy, who hasn’t actually appeared in a good movie since he was nominated for an Oscar in 2006’s Dreamgirls. Him making bank off of the Shrek franchise, allowing him to go away for a while, is a very good thing. He’s made a lot of very poor movie decisions and he saturated the market with Murphy. Seeing him in Tower Heist though reminds us all of why he was one of the brightest shining stars in Hollywood once. He crackles on the screen like Robin Williams did in his prime. He pumps life into lines that otherwise would go insignificant, simply by being Eddie Murphy. Of course he’s not breaking new ground or jockeying for accolades, but damnit, he’s really good.
Same can be said for the rest of the cast that do a fine job of supporting Murphy and allowing him to be the star. Especially Stiller who has proven he can be the funny man but takes a backseat as the straight guy to Murphy’s wild card. The only actor that gives Murphy a run for his money is Pena, who banks yet another winning comedic performance in his resume. It’s almost getting to the point where I forget that he started and excelled at drama first.
I appreciate this film for what it is and what it attempted to do. But sadly it falls short in quite a few ways. The comedy stops around the beginning of the third act and the rest is allowed to be suspenseful action, albeit still fun. The climax of the film though ventures into absurd when the entire success of their heist is dependent upon an absolutely impossible and stupid stunt. I’m not sure if that was Ratner’s idea to show off how well he can use special FX or not, but it’s ineffective except in that it makes me laugh unintentionally.
Tower Heist is a fun movie that does no wrong. Some of that is because heist films are always fun by default. But allow Oceans 11 be an example of how it can be fun, funny and downright awesome by stylizing the look and tone and keeping us grounded in the plausible. Go for the fun of it, stay for the Murphy but expect to get a little robbed of your expectations. Tower Heist (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-
If you were to ask most comedians who their favorite comedians are, I would guess that Steve Martin would show up in the Top 10 for most of them.Â There's no argument over his influence and skills.Â But for some reason, he chooses horrible movies to do...at least in the last couple decades.Â It doesn't make sense why the man that brought us The Jerk, The Three Amigos, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Parenthood has also brough us Cheaper By the Dozen 1 and 2, Bringing Down the House, andÂ The Pink Panther remakes.Â Now he has The Big Year.Â So which pile will this be thrown on?Â Can it be on both?Â
The Big Year has a great premise: it's a pseudo true story about a real event called The Big Year which is competitive bird watching.Â Yeah.Â Competitive.Â Besides Martin, it also stars Owen Wilson and Jack Black...two actors that were also really funny once upon a time and have perhaps run their course.Â
AÂ film in the vein of Christopher Guest's classic Best in Show would have been amazing!Â A comedy lampooning the existence and the people that participate in a bird watching competition sounds awesome!Â Quickly it becomes apparent that that is not the direction they took.Â I probably shouldÂ have seen that coming since it was directed by David Frankel, who did Marley & Me and The Devil Wears Prada.Â He's very good at giving us comediesÂ that teeter back and forth between very funny and emotionally appealing.Â The Big Year tries as hard as it can to be more like those films but sadly never does.Â
See, when you enter into a Big Year, you are away from your family, your job, your life for a whole year.Â You miss outÂ on an awful lot and the movie partially focuses on that.Â It also focuses on the beauty of nature and the birds themselves.Â If you're saying so far allÂ that doesn't sound very funny...you're right.Â The movie isn't very funny; but that doesn't mean it's not good.Â But it doesn't do aÂ quality jobÂ at pulling you in any particular direction or making you feel a certain way.Â It just kind of exists.Â The characters don'tÂ make you feel for them completely or even pick a favorite in the contest.Â There are moments of great filmmaking but not enough to love the movie.
The good news is that none of these usually annoying comedic actors are annoying in the film.Â They don't branch out into new territory or take any risks with character choices but you get what you'd expect minus some fark and dick jokes from Jack Black.Â In fact, he gives one of the better performances in the movie since the relationship with his dad, played by Brian Dennehy (Romeo + Juliet) is some of the near tear-jerking you expierence in the film.Â But overall to use the word "big" in the title of this film is false advertising.
The Big YearÂ (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: C
Did you ever see someone line-up a hundred dominoes in a perfect design that looks like it will be so easy and awesome to knock them all over? Â Then when they push the first one it might knock two or three over but then something goes wrong and it doesn't work? Â That's 30 Minutes or Less. Â All the dominoes were lined-up and gave the impression that this would be so awesome when easily knocked over, but something just went wrong with it.
30 Minutes or Less has a great team of comedic actors. Â Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder, Your Highness), Oscar-nominated Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland), Aziz Ansari (NBC's Community, Funny People) and Nick Swardson (Grandma's Boy, Just Go With It) are the principal cast here and all of them are very funny. Â Then you add director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) and Ben Stiller as producer, you should be able to knock those dominoes over...1, 2, 3. Â I don't know what happened but it was a disaster.
First off, the tone of the movie was nowhere near the caliber that Fleiscer created with Zombieland. Â I expected the same kind of music video intensity with great editing, bright colors and funny FX. Â Instead, what 30 Minutes or Less offers is boring, uninteresting direction from a timid director that doesn't resemble the creative beast we got the first time around.
We also get a lackluster performance from almost everyone involved. Â It's pretty sad when the shining star in the comedic cast is Michael Pena (Crash, The Lincoln Lawyer), who is mostly known for his dramatic chops. Â Just like he did in the highly underrated Observe and Report, Pena creates so much with such little screen time. Â His crazed and slightly slow Mexican gangster, Chonga, is the best thing about the movie and delivers most of the laughs despite only being in 3 or so scenes.
The concept for the film has the potential to be very funny, even though it bares an eerie similarity to a horrific case in Pennsylvania a year ago that ended with the poor guy, who had the bomb strapped around his neck, getting his head blown up. Â Don't worry, 30 Minutes or Less has a much different ending although it's equally as unfunny.
Eisenberg even gives a performance that is so forced and poorly crafted that it almost makes me think he got lucky with that Oscar nomination last year. Â We'll see what the future holds for him, but I hope he's got a lot better up his sleeve. Â But even if he had the flu through the entire production, I would still expect the other three to carry the film. Â They've each made me laugh in other projects they've worked on but in this movie it seems as if they were forced to work together despite no one getting along. Â It also doesn't help that all four of them play the exact same roles you've seen them play time and time and time again. Â Really, Danny McBride? Â You're a foul-mouthed hot head again? Â How original.
30 Minutes or Less is such a disappointment and that's not even including the fact that it's a pitiful 83 minutes long. Â Are you kidding me? Â The last time a feature length movie was that short it was animated! Â The film had all the ingredients but just failed to deliver...only with the movie, you don't get your money back.
30 Minutes or Less Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D+
In 1988, a movie came out starring Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) and Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop) called Vice Versa. Â It was a cheeseball family comedy about a father and son that both touch a magic skull at the same time and end up switching bodies. Â I loved it when I first saw it, but I was also 8-years-old. Â In 2011, a movie came out starring Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses, Juno) and Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, The Proposal) called The Change-Up. Â It's a raunchy adult comedy about two best friends that pee in a magic fountain at the same time and end up switching bodies. Â I probably would have loved this more when I was 8-years-old too.
I personally admire both Bateman and Reynolds. Â They're not only very attractive guys, but they have stellar comedic timing and are fun to watch in movies, even if they play almost the same character in most of them. Â And I won't take away their noble, if not also failing, attempt to make this movie as funny as they could.
Sadly the fault of failure falls on the shoulders of the writers, who were the guys behind The Hangover movies and director David Dobkin who has Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus and Shanghai Noon to his credit. Â Perhaps they consider it a feather in their cap that they feature the first movie with a CGI baby's assh**e and the gorgeous Leslie Mann (Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin) topless for the first time. Â But as far as quality filmmaking goes, they should be ashamed. Â It's further proof to me that I was right in that The Hangover was a fluke comedy that was given more credit than it deserved and was far funnier than the writers were capable of doing.
For starters, almost every joke in The Change-Up is visible from a football field away. Â Nothing is surprising and therefore isn't very funny. Â I chuckled a few times, here and there, but when you have Bateman and Reynolds at your disposal...you better make my belly shake. Â Second, it's one of the most unoriginal concepts I've seen in a very long time...rivaled possibly by The Hangover Part II. Â If you're gonna rip off 90% of your plot from a film from the '80s, don't insult some of us and just make it a remake. Â And my biggest problem with the movie was that the characters were wildly undefined. Â If I switched bodies with my best friend from childhood, I would NEVER EVER put his children at danger, try to bang his wife and ruin his entire career. Â That's precisely what happens in The Change-Up. Â It's not funny to watch because you don't get the impression that these two guys care about each other in the slightest! Â That's a crucial point for the story to work. Â To top it all off, the movie tries to be a Judd Apatow film in that it starts to be important and pretends to have something to say about what's really important in life but all of that comes across forced, despite a great performance from Mann.
The Change-Up tries to be a little bit of everything to everyone and ends up being not very funny and full of holes and flops. Â The good news is that it won't hurt Bateman or Reynolds in their reputation for knocking comedy out of the park; the bad news is it makes Vice Versa look like a masterpiece to me again.
The Change-Up Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D