Click into the media player at 12 minutes in to hear Tim Lammers‘ reviews of “The Conjuring 2,” “Now You See Me 2” and “Warcraft: The Beginning” on KQRS-FM.
“Ted 2” (R) 2 stars (out of four)
Writer-director Seth MacFarlane is toying with his audiences again, quite literally, with “Ted 2,” the inevitable sequel to his 2012 smash about the travails of a foul-mouthed stuffed Teddy bear and his longtime owner/friend. Though not revolutionary
MacFarlane once again voices Ted, the plaything who magically came to life when John (Mark Wahlberg), desperate for a friend as a child, had a special wish come true. The crux of the first film involved John separating from his “Thunder Buddy” (Ted helped John quell his fear of thunderstorms) so he could live a normal life with his girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), and at the beginning of “Ted 2,” we find out that the couple married, only to soon divorce.
Ted, on the other hand, is happily in love with the hard-livin’ Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), and the film opens with their wedding. Flash-forward a year later, and the couple’s wedded bliss has hit the wall – and in an attempt to save their marriage, Ted tells Tami-Lynn that he wants them to have a baby, but obviously he can’t impregnate her because, well, he’s not equipped to do so. Exploring the options of artificial insemination and adoption, the question is raised of Ted’s legal status – since he’s not a human, he can’t by law adopt, so he goes to court to change his status from “property” to “person.”
Naturally, “Ted 2” doesn’t feel as original as the concept in the first film, and at best, the sequel is just more of the same. Basically, “Ted 2” is just another one-joke movie (Listen! It’s a foul-mouthed Teddy bear!), but at least MacFarlane is willing to go all-out with his dialogue without any fear of offending anybody (which is welcome in these touchy-feely times that we live in). Essentially, “Ted,” as well as “Ted 2,” is an extension of his hit animated TV series “Family Guy,” which is basically loaded with pop-culture references designed to push people’s buttons. Not surprisingly, Ted’s voice is virtually the same as “Family Guy’s” main guy, Peter Griffin (also voiced by MacFarlane).
Despite the lack of the originality, there’s no question “Ted 2” has its share of funny moments, especially in Ted and John’s ill-fated trip to the sperm bank. Like the first film, there are notable star cameos in “Ted 2,” but the main cast – Wahlberg, back with Giovanni Ribisi (great again as a creeper who wants his own Ted), and joined by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Amanda Seyfried (an attorney who fights for Ted’s “civil rights”) and John Slattery (an attorney for the state) – is quite capable of getting the job done. Seyfried is much more likable than Kunis in her role as a dope-smoking pop-culture illiterate, and you’ll never look at her the same after a scene with somebody dressed up like Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” movies.
Like “The Lord of the Rings,” “Ted 2” is designed with a specific audience in mind. High-critics will hate it, while those undaunted by gross-out comedy and gutsy humor will love it. Appealing to the pop-culture geek element, the film’s third act takes place at the New York Comic Con, with lots of wonderful appearances by cosplayers skillfully worked into the action. Despite its heavy-handed courtroom narrative and overly-long run time, “Ted 2,” for what it is, works. What more could you ask for from a movie based on a toy?
“Max” (PG) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
With a canine co-star and a storyline crafted to pay respect to working military dogs and the soldiers who handle them, “Max” is a hard movie not to like. But as PG family fare, “Max” is also big on hokum, making it a film that would have probably been better suited as a Hallmark movie than an adventure for the big screen.
The title character in “Max” is a Belgian Malinois – which closely resembles a German Shepherd – a breed of dog frequently used in dangerous military situations since it has a keen sense of sniffing out weaponry and bombs. In the film, Max is the partner of Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), a Marine in Afghanistan whose bond with the dog is shattered when he is killed in battle.
Lost and rendered useless without his handler, Max is flown back to Texas where he is adopted by Kyle’s family after the dog takes a liking to Kyle’s younger brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins). The new bond proves to be vital as Kyle’s longtime friend and fellow soldier, Tyler (Luke Kleintank) returns home, and Max senses there’s something that’s dangerously off about the person whom Kyle’s parents, Ray (Thomas Haden Church) and Pamela (Lauren Graham) trust implicitly.
While “Max” is framed around the importance of service dogs in the U.S. military, the movie at its heart is a family adventure drama with a fairly predictable story wedged in between. There are emotional moments in the film, to be sure, since a family has suffered a great loss – but ultimately, the pain takes a backseat to a contrived storyline that puts Justin’s family and Max in peril. The film is well-intended, but seems to have missed the mark on telling a compelling story about the unsung, four-legged heroes who have been serving in battle with U.S. soldiers and their allies since World War I.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.