Bloomberg News

Trashy ‘Ted’; Hippies ‘Like Us’; ‘Unforgivable’: Movies

June 30, 2012

"People Like Us"

Chris Pine as Sam, Elizabeth Banks as Frankie and Michael D'Addario as Josh in "People Like Us." Sam tries to figure out how to tell Frankie they are siblings in the DreamWorks dramedy. Source: Dreamworks via Bloomberg

Is anything funnier than a cuddly teddy bear smoking dope and talking about genitalia in terms too graphic to repeat here?

Not in “Ted,” Seth MacFarlane’s oddball, hit and miss directorial debut about a hard-living plush toy wished to life by an 8-year-old boy.

Mark Wahlberg, fully and remarkably committed to the nonsense, plays the little boy grown up, his stuffed, childhood “thunder buddy” still at his side and talking trash.

MacFarlane, effortlessly adapting his “Family Guy” cartoon humor to big screen live action, voices the “adult” Ted with a thick Boston accent, gleeful vulgarity and his signature reservoir of pop culture asides.

With a storybook-style narration (by Patrick Stewart) about a lonely boy at the holidays, “Ted” begins in 1985, when little John Bennett wants nothing more for Christmas than a trusty pal.

John gets his wish when his new, floppy-headed Teddy Ruxpin knock-off comes to life. The digital special effects are terrific.

Anyone who remembers head-shop posters of Disney (DIS:US) characters in flagrante, or saw “Howard the Duck,” knows the joke.

TV Debut

MacFarlane and cowriters Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild quickly (and smartly) dispense with shocked reactions. After the bear makes his TV debut (a digitally altered scene from “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” is spot on), he soon becomes just another has-been child star.

“Ted” then settles into a standard-issue toxic buddy tale, as the heavy-drinking, hooker-hiring bear causes no end of friction between 35-year-old John (Wahlberg) and his lovely, put-upon girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis).

MacFarlane pads the tale with stereotypes and more subplots than necessary: Lori has a sleazy boss (Joel McHale), and Ted is stalked by a demented fan (Giovanni Ribisi) with a sadistic little boy.

For all its naughty laughs and unprintable dialogue, this bear movie grows awfully tame. Why go to all the trouble of creating a living doll just to make him the next Seth Rogen?

“Ted,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)

Linda Ronstadt

The troublemaker of “People Like Us” lived the ’70s high life, buzzing through L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, palling around with Linda Ronstadt, picking up chicks at the Troubadour and producing great albums.

It’s a shame he dies before the movie starts. Sweet as it is, “People Like Us” could use some of the old man’s edge.

Inspired by real events in the life of first-time director Alex Kurtzman, “People Like Us” stars Chris Pine as Sam Harper, a slippery New York businessman long estranged from his California hippie parents.

When his record-producer dad dies, Sam heads West for the funeral, less out of loyalty to his grieving mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) than to flee a business deal gone bad.

Disappointment comes when Sam discovers his sole inheritance is $150,000 in cash -- and instructions to deliver the windfall to a half-sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and 11- year-old nephew (Michael Hall D’Addario) he never knew he had.

Kurtzman pumps up the family melodrama with an exasperating contrivance: For most of the film, Sam doesn’t reveal his identity (or the inheritance) to the hardscrabble sibling, instead infiltrating her life by posing as a fellow AA member.

Is Frankie falling for the handsome Sam? “People Like Us” doesn’t go there, but that ick factor hovers. And there’s nothing in the conflict that couldn’t be resolved with a minute of truth and $150,000 in cash.

“People Like Us,” from Dreamworks, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Evans)

Mysterious Writer

A sixtyish writer of mysteries (Andre Dussollier) falls for the real-estate agent (Carole Bouquet) who rents him an island house near Venice. Soon they’re living there together, husband and wife.

His married daughter (Melanie Thierry) comes to visit and, not for the first time, disappears. The private eye he hires to investigate (Adriana Asti) is his wife’s ex-lover, and also the mother of a troubled son (Mauro Conte) who has just gotten out of jail.

He hires the son to trail his wife.

Drugs, sex, jealousy and suicide all buzz on the edges of the French director Andre Techine’s “Unforgivable.” Yet the movie is something far more contemplative than a thriller. As in life, you have a sense of what’s driving these characters without quite being able to name it.

Techine treats Venice much the same way. It’s there in the background, imposing; yet you see it only out of the corner of your eye, and so it adds to the complex texture of the picture rather than taking it over.

The actors are very fine, especially the women. Asti was a great beauty when she appeared in Bertolucci’s “Before the Revolution” almost 50 years ago. Her skill hasn’t faded.

Bouquet is still a beauty 35 years after Bunuel mined her model’s frostiness (as Techine does here) in “That Obscure Object of Desire.”

This is a calmly entrancing film about violent emotion -- and not only emotion. When violence does break out, it comes so swiftly that it may not register quite fully until later. And then it stays with you, as the whole movie does.

“Unforgivable,” from Strand Releasing, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **** (Seligman)


What the Stars Mean:

****        Excellent
***         Very Good
**          Good
*           Mediocre
(No stars)  Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Zinta Lundborg on New York weekend.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com. Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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