Mark Wahlberg

(Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Seth MacFarlane has always had a distinct comedic style, full of non sequiturs, pop culture references and casual tastelessness, developed in his small empire of animated programs broadcast by Fox. With his transition to the big screen, one might hope that MacFarlane takes this chance to refine his sense of humor and develop as an artist, but unfortunately “Ted” is more of the same from the humorist. The film is just exaggerated and blown out to accommodate the requirements of the R rating, and anyone hoping for more will be sorely disappointed.

In addition to directing “Ted,” MacFarlane lends his voice to main character, an animated teddy bear who is brought to life when a young John Bennett (played as an adult by Mark Wahlberg) makes a wish for a best friend. Nearly 30 years later, Ted and John are still friends, content to sit around smoking pot and watching television, even as John’s four-year relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis) teeters on the edge of disaster thanks to John’s immaturity.

There’s one quality that stands out throughout “Ted,” and it’s laziness. The film only really knows how to tell three kinds of jokes: casually “edgy” racist humor, fart jokes and pop culture references. “Ted” comes back to these three tropes over and over, and by the end of the film, things have taken on a mean-spirited abrasiveness. The script lacks ambition, and seems uninterested in telling its own story. Things happen to the characters, but the film’s ending betrays every narrative development that’s transpired. Instead, the finale lays out the film’s themes in a few neon-lit lines of dialogue and fades to black.

The film is full of illogical story gaps and character decisions, right down to its foundations. John and Lori are four years into their relationship before the film starts, but the problems she develops with Ted’s shenanigans seem like the sort of issue you bring up before you move in with your boyfriend and his stoner teddy bear. Kunis uses her natural charm to bring some nuance to Lori’s stereotypical nagging girlfriend, but Wahlberg isn’t so lucky. He’s basically playing your average Judd Apatow-esque man-child, but without any of the heart or conscience that makes that character so affable, and the result is an irritating character who makes an endless stream of bad decisions.

There’s one subplot in particular that sums up everything wrong with “Ted.” Giovanni Ribisi shows up, playing a truly creepy fan of Ted’s named Donny, with an overweight son (Aedin Mincks) who desperately wants the teddy bear for himself. Seeing as the film’s central conflict involves John’s need to get rid of Ted to move on with his life, this subplot practically serves up the film’s ending on a platter: John passes Ted along to another young boy wishing for a friend, and moves on with his adult life. Sure, it’s a little “Toy Story 3”-ish, but it’s a lot more interesting than the way the film treats Donny and his son as monsters, easy punchlines for easy jokes, and it’s a narrative detour that puts all of “Ted”’s problems into focus. It’s a film that wants to be about growing up, but it’s really just a string of cheap jokes.

That’s why “Ted” may be the worst movie of the year, or at least the one I hate the most. It’s one thing when a film is lazy, and its humor proves that “Ted” is certainly that, but it’s another when a film is just repulsive and morally rotten, and that’s what dooms it. The film has a few funny moments, but its characters are so predictable in their illogical mistakes, its plot so uninterested in its own stakes, and its spirit so thoroughly hateful and unpleasant, that it’s not worth watching in any shape or form. Avoid it at all costs.


In this film image released by Universal Pictures, Mark Wahlberg, left, and Ben Foster are shown in a scene from “Contraband.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Generic action films like “Contraband” are rarely worth getting excited for, as most of them tend to capitalize on their star’s heroic persona while forgoing unnecessary elements such as plot, character or even impressive action sequences. While “Contraband” may not fail on the same level as many of its peers, it remains a wholly middle-of-the-road action film, decent in every way but so slight that it’ll be forgotten by next weekend.

Occasional action star Mark Wahlberg headlines as Chris Farraday, a smuggler who is turned straight by the love of his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and their two sons, only to be drawn in for one last job after his brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) screws up a drug run for local drug lord, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Heading to Panama with Andy, Chris finds his carefully laid plans go wildly off course as he struggles to save his family from impending doom.

Obviously, originality is not in “Contraband’s” repertoire, but the film moves quickly (although the Icelandic film on which “Contraband” is based runs nearly half an hour shorter) and doesn’t waste time with its fairly predictable plot reveals and machinations. While director Baltasar Kormakur (the star of the original film) takes one or two opportunities to let the film’s action take on a stylized quality, he generally opts for a typical, glossy visual style and easily clears the low bar he’s set.

Wahlberg is serviceable as the conflicted criminal trying to get his family in the clear, bringing little fresh air to the archetype, but at least not making a mockery of himself in front of the camera as he’s been known to do with an entire film resting on his shoulders — lest we forget “The Happening.”

The supporting cast does more or less exactly what they’re asked; only Ben Foster as Chris’ best friend with nefarious motives and Ribisi’s Cajun accent stand out.

There’s really not much to say about “Contraband.” It’s a film that accomplishes everything it sets out to do, but never really goes above and beyond the standards of its genre, making for an action vehicle that works while you watch it and dissipates as soon as it’s over.

Printed on Thursday, January 19, 2012 as: 'Contraband' provides bare minimum, lacks originality