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Movie Reviews: Ted, Magic Mike, People Like Us

Mark Wahlberg talks to his stuffed bunny rabbit, Channing Tatum bares (almost) all, and Chris Pine...bores

"Ted" - Review: 3.5 out of 4

You’ll never look at your child’s teddy bear the same way again after this one.

From the mind of “Family Guy” creator Seth MaFarlane, comes his debut film about a stuffed teddy come-to-life who enjoys the finer things like: strippers, smoking weed, cursing, and dirty sexual innuendo.

This miraculous thing happens many years ago when a young boy named John makes a wish, making Ted a flash-in-the-pan celebrity and turning them into inseparable buddies. As adults, the fame has dried up, but both are still together, spending their time getting high and watching Flash Gordon.

John (Mark Wahlberg) works a dead end job at a car rental company and has a beautiful girlfriend named Lori (Mila Kunis, providing sappy romance) that he would do anything for. She loves him back but needs to see him mature, and so John decides that Ted must move out.

But try as they might, staying away becomes harder than both might think.

MacFarlane, he of the cut-away gag and audaciously funny laugh, is nothing if not a keen observer. He’ll go crude, offensive (there isn’t a race, religion, traumatic event or sexual orientation he hasn’t hit), and isn’t afraid to go darker either.

But what I like most about him is, like the best comedians, he can create a shocking belly-laugh from a witty place of social and pop cultural commentary. So I guess the surprise would be that the bro-mance, man-stuffed animance, whatever you want to call it, is not only funny but sweet.

Whether they’re riffing on Boston girls, hanging with the real Flash Gordon, going mano-e-mano in a great man vs. teddy bear fist fight or singing the thunder song to ward away their fear of the boom, it’s effective and even kinda adorable. 

Wahlberg is great for this, he has a boyish-innocence that contrasts well with his bulky physique and he never lets himself slip into cartoonishness, and MacFarlane (doing the Peter Griffin voice, but still) giving voice to this seamless, excellent motion-capture special effect, gives Ted both his comic timing and affability.

Another nice surprise is Giovanni Ribisi, notable for his flamboyantly creepy turn as a Ted-stalker. But it’s MacFarlane, taking his schtick outside the realm of cartoons (well, partially), who may well prove to be one of the most exciting comedy filmmakers around.

With this consistently, outrageously funny movie, he’s off to a good start.

"Magic Mike" - Review: 3 out of 4

Hellllo abs! Pulling together all the muscle-bound actors not already in the new “Expendables” movie, director Steven Soderbergh and Channing Tatum (the later working from his own life experience) pay tribute to men in uniform—who then strip those uniforms off.

Mike (Tatum) is a roofer by day, stripper by night, taking ne’er do well drifter Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing, showing him the ropes of the dance club. Upon a twist of fate, getting him recruited into the squad of guys who dress up like Firemen, cops, Army, Navy, ect and let the ladies salute in their own way before getting a lap dance.

It’s for this fantasy fulfillment that these guys escape the night with a waistband full of sweaty money. But Mike is unfulfilled and would like to start a hand-crafted furniture business. He’s also falling for Adam’s sister (Cody Horn), who’s wary of his sex and drug filled lifestyle.

This is traditionally stylized, single-cam, story-less and straight-forward Soderbergh, no moralizing or scandalizing the industry, and while every cliché from “wanting to be seen as more than just a stripper” to “one special girl” to “drugs are bad” is used here, it’s way more entertaining and accessible than I was expecting.

Even if you’re not into assless thongs and chaps (not much full-frontal though), guys doing perfectly choreographed dance routines to songs like “It’s Raining Men” before stripping down, or spray tanning and penis enlargement, there’s a really funny flick here centering on everything mentioned.

Plus the buying of erotic clothing and Mathew McConaughey, playing the leather and cowboy hat-clad owner of the club with such infectious enthusiasm that everyone else pales in comparison.

But it also has personal touches.

Tatum makes a charismatic turn here, plus he’s one hell of an impressive dancer, but it’s his work in the later half where Mike confronts his lifestyle that is the best stuff of the actor’s career. He adds a deeper layer to a movie that is otherwise playfully entertaining.

"People Like Us" - Review: 1 out of 4

You’ve heard of “People like Us”? The heavily-tauted film from the people who brought you “The Help” that barely even meets that mediocre effort, or has the two actresses who made that film what it was.

That this was written by the two guys who wrote “Transformers” is no surprise, this is about as mechanical as story-telling gets.

It centers on a smooth-talking barterer named Sam (Chris Pine, who could really use that “Star Trek” sequel right about now), in major debt and about to lose his job when he hears his no-good father has past away. What is generally something he wants to dismiss ends up opening his eyes to the fact he has a half-sister named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a walking incarnation of hard-luck clichés-single mom, troubled son (Michael Hall D’Addario), recovering alcoholic, works in a bar.

Sam has been left money by his father to give to this second family, but for some reason he keeps bumping into them, but never telling them they’re all related.

Soon he’s hanging out with her son and making her think he’s romantically interested in her, something that would feel downright creepy if “People Like Us” weren’t so obviously trying to pull your heartstrings from the outset.

Will he give her the money? Will he ever reveal his true intentions? Will they all learn to care for one another as people do?

Chances are you’ll figure it out long before the movie even starts. In the meantime, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (the later also directed the film) are on auto-pilot, handling this all with dull melodrama (Sam and Frankie bonding over what a dick their “dads” were, Sam’s unresolved issues with mom, played by Michelle Pffeiffer) and phony clichés.

You have your cutesy hallmark-style bonding moments, your easily bypassable conflict, your manipulatively teary-eyed resolution. This is like a hack version of a Cameron Crowe movie, even classic rock records are incorporated into the story. The actors try their best, but it’s like whipping a dead horse.

Everyone is sleepwalking through it, the genuine feeling and surprises never come. The real title should be “People Are Bored Stiff by Us.”

For more reviews and movie news check out: http://weekend-flicks.com

 

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