U.S.: Seth MacFarlane, 2012 (Universal)
Ted is a vulgar, irreverent, dirty-mouthed comedy about a vulgar, irreverent, dirty-mouthed teddy bear named, of course, Ted -- a fuzzy horny little stoner who is the best friend of a sweet, somewhat Peter-Pannish Boston guy named John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg, as likeable and undangerous as he can get).
Why are we reviewing movies about badmouth, pop-culture-obsessed teddy bears -- dirty-mouthed funny movies that are also cute and sentimental? Well, long ago, one magical Christmas -- narrated, at his most plush-tongued and mock-classical, by Patrick Stewart -- Ted was granted the power of (largely four-letter-word) speech, writer-director Seth MacFarlane's speech, in fact, and also the power of motion-capture by a falling star. And he and little John, the least popular kid in the neighborhood, promised to be best buds forever, through thick and thin, through Celtic wins and Celtics losses, through Flash Gordon and Jack and Jill, through pot smoke and busted relationships -- except for the one gal John doesn't want to lose, lovable stick-it-out Lori (Mila Kunis), a knockout who's put up with him (and Ted).
Ted was famous for a while, but lately he's just been hanging around, providing all kinds of bad examples for John. So now Lori, who is being pursued avidly by her rich narcissistic boss (Joel McHale), gives John a choice: Beauty or the Bear, Lori or the Tedster, a life of couch potato stonery and marijuana-fueled buffoonery, or a life with the Family Gal. Teddy spreads his little teddy-arms teddy-bear-wide: "Bring it in, yuh bastid." Aaaaaw!
Ted, which is MacFarlane's first movie feature, is a brom-com with a difference. It's about two arrested-development types and the bad-judgment, too-horny, screw-up one is a stuffed bear come-to-life. But nobody ever reacts as if it's a toy-come-to-life, not even Johnny Carson on TV, on his show, brought to your screens through the magic of computers, or something. That's the joke, and the whole cast plays it straight -- even Giovanni Ribisi as the teddy-bear fetishist with the overweight son (Aedin Mincks -- and there's a great wrap-up gag on him). And well, dammit, the joke works, even though you shouldn't take your small kids to Ted, because it has so much casual swearing. Even though it's the one movie they'll probably want to see. (Extras: commentary by Wahlberg and McFarlane; "Making Of" documentary; deleted scenes; gag reel: teddy bear scuffle.)
The Bourne Legacy (C+)
U.S.: Tony Gilroy, 2012, Universal
I miss Jason Bourne already -- missed him, in fact, even before I saw The Bourne Legacy, fourth in the multi-million dollar grossing Bourne spy movies, based on Robert Ludlum's books. That series, you'll recall, initially starred Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, super-spy on the run, and now, with Damon gone, stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, another super-spy on the run. Cross, however, is not in any way related or connected to Jason Bourne, or to any other Bourne, beyond the fact that they were both involved in top secret "skill enhancement" programs that the government has now discontinued, and wants forgotten, along with Jason Bourne and anyone like him.
That's the problem. There is no Bourne in The Bourne Legacy, and, crucially, no Matt Damon to be Bourne. Damon, whose on-screen boyish intensity, awareness, fighting skills and brains are a good fit for complex spy stories like Ludlum's, opted out of doing a fourth Bourne. So did director Paul Greengrass, the hell-on-wheels docu-style helmer of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, and the guy who had referred to a possible fourth Bourne as "The Bourne Redundancy."
Did anyone, I wonder, then suggest that Doug Liman, the director of the first and best Bourne, The Bourne Identity? Perhaps not, but the director they did pick is writer-director Tony Gilroy, who wrote those first three Bournes and this one as well. Gilroy, a very good screenwriter who's especially good at tricky, off-chronological construction, also wrote and directed the excellent George Clooney thriller Michael Clayton, and the okay Juliet Roberts-Clive Owen romantic comedy thriller Duplicity.
The Bourne Legacy is full of Gilroys: Tony as writer-director, his brother Dan as co-writer, and Tony's twin brother John as editor. (Their father was Frank Gilroy, the author of The Subject Was Roses). The result is a perfectly good action film, as fast and explosive and action-packed as you could probably want, well-cast and rather cleverly written to boot, but lacking (as most of them do) enough drama and humor and character to counterbalance the action and make it memorable.
The movie begins with a bang: Jeremy Renner as Cross, running around Alaska, climbing mountains, popping some kind of colored drug or medicine or skill-enhancer, and hooking up with Oscar Isaac, who plays a role listed in the credits as "Outcome 3." (All that has something to do with skill-enhancement and the hush-hush project Operation Outcome.) As you might have guessed, the two of them, in Outcome's isolated mountain lair, are attacked by heavily armed government spycraft, at the behest of Edward Norton as (retired) Colonel Eric Byer. Byer later claims that his villainous actions, which send Cross off on another mad race up and down mountains, across the snow and through ravenous wolf packs, are "morally indefensible and absolutely necessary."
That's what they all say. (Extras: commentary with Tony Gilroy, co-writer Dan Gilroy, editor John Gilroy, cinematographer Robert Elswit, production designer Kevin Thompson and second unit director Dan Bradley; featurettes; deleted scenes.)
Ice Age: Continental Drift (C+)
U.S.: Steve Martino/Mike Thurmaier, 2012, 20th Century Fox
Animated features have gotten so good these days, so surprisingly witty and adult, that it's almost reassuring to run into one that's just as poorly written, confusing and juvenile as a lot of the live action movies for adults. Take Ice Age: Continental Drift, the fourth and least of the Ice Age series. (The first is still the best.)
The movie has its moments, including has some knockout visual effects and action scenes and some good, sprightly visual comedy -- usually the scenes involving Scrat the obsessed squirrel and the elusive acorn he keeps chasing everywhere. And it has an amusing cast that includes the old series regulars (Ray Romano as Manny the amiable wooly mammoth, Denis Leary as Diego the suave sabre-tooth tiger, and John Leguizamo as Sid the wacky sloth), as well as some engaging newcomers (Wanda Sykes as cantankerous Granny Sloth, Peter Dinklage as the sadistic baboon pirate Captain Gutt, and Jennifer Lopez as a sexy tigress named Shira). And, of course it's done with the drop-dead technical ingenuity we tend to expect these days from feature cartoons.
But it also has a lazy, unfunny script, full of obvious gags and silly dialogue: an uninspired cliche-puddle of a screenplay that makes for a lazy, unfunny show -- at least, I'm guessing, for most of the adults who get dragged to this. The kids are more the target audience for these movies anyway, and if they liked it, well, fine.
The story takes place once more in that bizarre prehistoric cartoon age invented for the movies by original directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, and writers Michael J. Wilson, Michael Berg and Peter Ackerman, a jam-packed span of time that seems to spread over millions if not zillions of years, and that mashes together everything from the Pleistocene to the Paleolithic to the early ages of TV sitcom. As with the last two Ice Ages (2006's Ice Age: The Meltdown and 2009's Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs), the story tends to resolve around the multi-species friendship of Manny, Diego and Sid and also the family life of Manny, his buxom and outspoken woolly mammoth wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) and now their perky and slightly rebellious daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), who has dad worried. (You'd worry too if you had a woolly mammoth wearing mascara for a teenage daughter.)
Continental drift, though, has gotten around to trying to supply Manny's buddies with more of a family, or some possibilities of families, to wit, the gorgeous and growly Shira, voiced by Lopez (just the kind of gal to give stripes to a sabre tooth tiger), and in Sid's case, not a girlfriend, but the smart-alecky indomitable old Granny voiced by Sykes.
Don't imagine that the boys won't break out and embark on another icy adventure, though. Only minutes of drift pass before the continent the guys inhabit suddenly cracks in two -- dividing the guys from Manny's family and herd -- and a chunk of it starts drifting away, carrying Manny, Diego, Sid and Granny out to the ocean. Fairly soon, they run into Dinklage's monstrous baboon Captain Gutt (so named because he likes to gut his victims) and Gutt's piratical crew, including Shira and a nervous sea lion named Flynn (Nick Frost).
Of course, the culprit behind all this continental drifting is little Scrat with his inevitable acorn -- a determined little rodent who never seems to learn that it's never safe anywhere in one of these movies to try to stick an acorn into an earth surface, whether icy or whatever. One tap of the acorn by the hungry little fella and our entire planet, or a lot of it, is plunged into cracks and chaos, while Scrat is plummeted to the earth's core, or cast adrift on the boundless ocean, or shot into space, or is seen descending into a Scrattian paradise called Scratlantis.
Scrat, of course is the true star of the Ice Age series, and a critics' darling as well. Probably only the great Wile E. Coyote has ever matched this insanely plucky squirrel for sheer Sisyphean balls.