The Films of Seth MacFarlane
Ted (July 7/12)
The first feature by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane, Ted follows affable 35-year-old slacker John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) as he's eventually forced to choose between Ted (MacFarlane), his fun-loving, sentient teddy bear, and his longtime girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). MacFarlane, along with cowriters Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, opens Ted with a remarkably engaging and entertaining prologue that immediately lures the viewer into the proceedings, with the lighthearted atmosphere subsequently perpetuated by charismatic performances and a smattering of genuinely hilarious comedic set pieces. (In terms of the former, it's the chemistry between John and Ted that stands as the movie's most potent weapon and one ultimately can't help but wish that MacFarlane had included more of their easygoing exploits.) There does reach a point, however, at which Ted's incongruously lackadaisical pace begins to become problematic, with the continuing emphasis on palpably needless subplots (eg Lori's dealings with her sleazy boss, Ted's efforts at avoiding a creepy collector, etc) ensuring that the film demonstrably runs out of steam as it rolls into its flabby midsection. (This is to say nothing of the hopelessly melodramatic stretch that occurs towards the end, as MacFarlane offers up a pair of fake break-ups that are nothing short of disastrous.) And although the movie picks up for its bizarre (yet effective, admittedly) action-oriented climax, Ted is, in the end, a terminally uneven and barely-passable debut from MacFarlane that, when compared to his superior work in television, can't help but come off as a serious disappointment.
A Million Ways to Die in the West
A Million Ways to Die in the West follows meek sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) as he's forced to man up after agreeing to a duel with a smug rival (Neil Patrick Harris' Foy), with Albert's efforts assisted by a beautiful woman (Charlize Theron's Anna) who has just arrived in town under mysterious circumstances. It's not surprising to note that filmmaker MacFarlane has infused A Million Ways to Die in the West with an off-kilter and persistently irreverent feel, with the movie, which bears the basic structure of a traditional, old-fashioned Western, placing a consistent emphasis on the central character's self-aware (and thoroughly contemporary) behavior and attitudes. MacFarlane's tongue-in-cheek performance goes a long way towards perpetuating the movie's off-the-wall atmosphere, and there's little doubt that the film, in its first half, boasts a number of laugh-out-loud funny moments and interludes. (It doesn't hurt, of course, that MacFarlane has peppered the supporting cast with a number of funny folks, while the movie also benefits from the inclusion of several stellar cameo appearances.) The lulls in the narrative grow more and more pronounced as time progresses, however, with the overlong running time felt to an increasingly pronounced degree once the movie passes the one-hour mark (ie there's a rough-cut quality here that's exacerbated by the inclusion of several superfluous sequences, including Albert's encounter with a group of Indians and subsequent drug-fueled hallucinations). And although the film really starts to drag in its final stretch, A Million Ways to Die in the West recovers for an exciting, satisfying finale - which ultimately does confirm its place as an erratic yet watchable comedy that could (and should) have been so much better.
Ted 2 (June 25/15)
Seth MacFarlane's titular talking teddy bear returns in this inferior sequel that follows Ted as he fights for his civil rights, with the narrative also detailing the relationship that inevitably ensues between Ted's best pal (Mark Wahlberg's John) and his lawyer (Amanda Seyfried's Samantha). It's ultimately not terribly difficult to pinpoint exactly where MacFarlane goes wrong, as the filmmaker has infused Ted 2 with a lackadaisical, rough-cut feel that's compounded by a ludicrously overlong running time of 115 minutes - with the erratic vibe reflected most keenly in the inclusion of palpably pointless scenes and sequences. (There is, for example, an early interlude involving Tom Brady that doesn't go anywhere and is hopelessly unfunny.) MacFarlane's ongoing efforts at cultivating a heartfelt, earnest atmosphere generally fall flat, while the absence of laugh-out-loud instances of comedy perpetuates the movie's half-baked feel (ie it's never completely clear just what MacFarlane is going for here). And although the film has been peppered with a few clever cameos and movie parodies, Ted 2's lack of momentum ensures that, while never boring, the picture remains oddly uninvolving from start to finish - with the whole thing taking a serious turn for the worse in its nigh interminable third act (which resembles the closing stretch of the original to a head-scratching degree, complete with Ted and John attempting to defeat Giovanni Ribisi's smarmy Donny). It's worth noting, too, that the film even manages to disappoint in terms of its love story, as there's a total and complete absence of romantic chemistry between Wahlberg and Seyfried's respective characters (ie he comes off as more of a father figure than a potential boyfriend). MacFarlane is doomed to keep making mediocre comedies until he enlists the services of a competent editor, which is a shame, really, given that his movies tend to contain the promise of something much, much better.