Friday, July 3, 2015
Audacious adrenaline-laced action sequences, a resolute refusal to take itself seriously, and a surprise finale help the new apocalyptic Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction epic "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (*** OUT OF ****) overcome its flat, formulaic, road show plot with its loquacious pseudo-scientific gobbledygook. No, director Jonathan Mostow's "T-3" doesn't top James Cameron's 1991 classic "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Although "T-3" lacks the narrative depth and complexity of "T-2," this $170 million sequel based on Cameron's characters boasts more than enough muscle, mayhem, and momentum to make it worth watching though not altogether memorable. Mostow, who directed the W. W. II submarine saga "U-571" and the Kurt Russell wife-napping nail-biter "Breakdown,"calls the shots this time and acquits himself well enough, considering how shallow the John Brancato & Michael Ferris screenplay remains throughout its lean, mean 109 minute running time. Aside from brawny Arnold Schwarzenegger as the protagonist, Earl Boen as Dr. Silverman qualifies as the only holdover from previous "Terminator" movies. Warner Brothers dumped Edward Furlong, whose real-life drunken antics cost him the John Connor role, and the studio replaced him with brooding-looking Nick Stahl of "Bully" and "In The Bedroom." Unfortunately, Stahl lacks any kind of charisma and he shares no chemistry with Claire Danes. For the record, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor has taken the long hike, too.
The nuts and bolts John Brancato and Michael Ferris screenplay (their credits include "The Game" and "The Net") picks up the plot about 10 years after "T-2." Leukemia has claimed Sarah Connor's life, and her grown-up son John (Nick Stahl) struggles to blend into the background and lives life "off the grid." He suspects that the future still holds something sinister for him, and he's right. As in "T-2," "T-3" opens with a new Terminator, this time a Terminatrix, the T-X (svelte-looking super model Kristanna Loken of "Academy Boyz"), stalking not only him but also those slated to act as his future lieutenants. Clearly, Mostow and his scribes must have seen Lara Flynn Boyle's mutant bug villainess in "Men In Black 2" and liked the idea. Like Robert Patrick's Terminator in "T-2," this Terminatrix sports a new generation of liquid-metal skin as well as a lethal limb that she can turn into a plasma cannon, stiletto probe and power saw. As villainess go, this bombshell robo-babe is truly bad to the bone! She can crank up parked cars from afar and send them careening off down the road as if they were remote control toys. And she is not out to take prisoners either! This Terminatrix gives new meaning to stereotype about reckless women drivers in an early chase scene when she hijacks a gigantic construction crane truck and demolishes half of Los Angeles trying to run down John Connor. One of those lieutenants on her hit list is mild-mannered veterinarian Kate Brewster (Claire Danes of "Brokedown Palace"). It seems that Kate and John shared a romantic moment together back in their high school days. Actually, it was the day before John’s foster parents were mysteriously murdered. The coincidences get even better. Now, it also seems that Kate's papa is a three-star general in charge of Skynet, an ultra-sophisticated computerized defense system which eventually out-smarts mankind and sends machines out to kill, kill, kill. No sooner has the action in “T-3” unfolded than things go on the Fritz. Least we not forget, in the middle of all this madness, another Terminator shows up in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger. No, not the same one who died at the end of "T-2," but he is just as obsolete as his earlier incarnation compared with the new Terminator. Nevertheless, Arnold makes life difficult for the Terminatrix. Kristanna Loken makes a terrific Terminatrix, too.
"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machine" ranks as one of the most physically exhausting movies you'll see. You'll feel bruised and battered, especially after the battle between the two cyborgs in the bathroom. When was the last time you saw somebody tear an entire urinal out of the wall and smash somebody over the head with it? One of my favorite scenes occurred in the police cruiser when the Terminatrix --masquerading as Scott Mason—shoves her fist through the detective’s chest and drives the car. Sadly, "T-3" doesn't provide Arnold with near enough clever one-liners as he had as either "Terminator" (1984) or "T-2," but "T-3" still packs a hugely entertaining punch. Arnold’s favorite like is “Talk to the hand.” Mostow stages a memorable entrance for Arnold. He saunters into a bar during ladies night without a stitch on and insists that the male stripper give him all his clothes. The firefight at Greenlawn Cementery is interesting, too. When Arnold emerges from the crypt carrying the casket like a stick on his shoulder, the image reminded me of the Spaghetti western hero named Django who drags a coffin behind him with a machine gun in it. Incidentally, Arnold is toting not only firearms but also John Connor. The worst thing you can say about "T-3" is that it is a high-octane, swiftly-paced, straightforward melodrama with little of its predecessor's wit and wisdom. On the other hand, if you relish break-neck action movies with a high quota of slam-bang auto crashes, trigger-happy shoot-outs, and an over-the-top, face-to-face confrontation between two larger-than-life cyborgs titans, you should catch "T-3" on the big-screen!
The last thing Hollywood wants to do is either insult or offend individuals, groups, races, religions, causes, genders, and ideologies with their films. The refreshing thing about the hilarious teddy bear satire “Ted” and its unapologetic sequel “Ted 2” is that neither have any such compunctions. Seth MacFarlane, who co-scripted, directed, and provided the voice of the titular teddy bear with a potty mouth, spends most of the 115 minutes of “Ted 2” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) saying and showing subject matter that most respectable people would think twice about before either saying or showing. Like its iconoclastic predecessor, “Ted 2” bears an R-rating for what the Motion Picture Association of America considers “crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use.” The audaciously subversive humor either will make you cringe in horrific revulsion or howl in gleeful elation. If you enjoyed “Ted” with its cretinous heroes, beyond borderline gross out humor, wanton drug abuse, and impertinent profanity, you’ll love this high-brow sequel. The worst thing you can say about “Ted 2” is that it is pretentious from fade-in to fade out. Clearly, MacFarlane and “Family Guy” co-scribes Alec Sulken and Wellesley Wild sought to overshadow the lowbrow original, and they have triumphed in this respect. The elaborate song & dance choreography that opens “Ted 2” after our eponymous protagonist ties the knot with his goofy girlfriend has guys and gals cavorting around a gigantic wedding cake and stomping about on a huge dance floor with diminutive Ted keeping up with them. This is the last thing that you’d ever imagine seeing in a movie about a profane bear and his idiotic friend. If you haven’t seen “Ted,” then you probably won’t understand half of the hilarity. During a thunderstorm, young John Bennett clutched his Hasbro teddy and made a wish that it would come to life, and it did! Consequently, they became “thunder buddies for life.”
Virtually everybody from “Ted” reprises their roles in “Ted 2,” except Mila Kunis. According to the Internet Movie Database, Kunis didn’t return as Lori because she was pregnant during the production with Ashton Kutcher’s baby. Meantime, MacFarlane and his co-scribes explain that John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg of “Contraband”) and she divorced for six months before the outset of the action. A dejected John is petrified of getting himself involved in another relationship and his life has spiraled out of control. Meantime, Ted and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth of “Next”) marry, but their marriage has degenerated into a disaster. They argue about finances, throw things, and Ted cusses out their neighbors. At the supermarket where Ted works as a cashier, an obese African-American cashier advises him that the best way to restore a marriage is to have a baby. The cashier’s comments are incredibly racist in a reverse sort of way. Indeed, those comments are so rude that they cannot be repeated. Tami-Lynn breaks her angry vow of silence with Ted after he tells her that they must have a baby, and they celebrate their momentous decision.
Sadly, neither are prepared for the obstacle course of trials and tribulations that ensue. Since the toy company Hasbro didn’t endow Ted with sex organs, our hero must search for the ideal sperm donor. They approach Flash (Sam J. Jones), but he complains about his low sperm count. John suggests Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady. Now, things get really bizarre. John and Ted sabotage Brady’s air conditioner so he has to sleep with his bedroom balcony windows open. These two nitwits set out to obtain a sperm sample from Brady while he is asleep! Ted decks himself out like a seafaring fisherman for the occasion, and John is appalled to learn that he must masturbate Brady. Fortunately, for everybody involved, Brady awakens in time and throws them out. Johnny offers to help Ted, and they enter a fertility clinic. A comedy of errors occurs while they are at the clinic. Accidentally, John tips over a storage bin of sperm samples and winds up sloshed in sperm. Nevertheless, everything goes awry when Tammy-Lynn’s physician (Dennis Haysbert of the "Allstate" commercials) informs her that she devastated her reproductive system abusing narcotics. Ultimately, Ted learns the State of Massachusetts no longer recognizes his status as a person so they cannot adopt a child. Furthermore, the court has invalidated their marriage. Ted and John seek legal representation. The best they can afford is 26-year old Samantha Leslie Jackson (Amanda Seyfried of “Les Misérables”), a freshman attorney who smokes a bong to counteract the ill effects of migraines. Predictably, since Ted and John are still getting wasted, several scenes of euphoric pot-smoking ensue, with our heroes and heroine smoking in public places, too. The funny thing about Samantha Leslie Jackson is that she is pop culture illiterate and doesn’t even realize the significance of the joke Ted makes when he observes that they have hired Samuel L. Jackson as their lawyer. MacFarlane gets a lot of mileage out of this joke as well as some of the exotic types of pot our heroes and heroine smoke. One running gag concerns a strain of marihuana that induces the fear of getting lost on the way home. In subsequent scenes, Ted and Samantha are shown leading a terrified John home because amnesia has set in as a consequence of smoking this ‘lost’ dope.
Just when everything appears to be working out favorably for our heroes, the villainous Donnie from “Ted” surfaces. Donnie (Giovanni Ribisi of “Public Enemies”) has gotten a job as a janitor now at Hasbro. He interrupts Hasbro executive Tom Jessup (John Carroll Lynch of “Zodiac”) during a hallway conference and tells him that he doesn’t flip the cakes in his urinal. Instead, he replaces them. Naturally, Jessup doesn’t know what to make of this sinister cretin. Later, Donnie has a moment with Jessup in Jessup’s office because Hasbro has an open-door policy with its employees. The news is out that Ted is going to court to determine what his status in society is. Donnie tells Jessup if the prosecution can prove that Ted is actually property rather than a person, they can abduct him with minor legal consequences, slice him open, and fathom what makes Ted so singular. Jessup’s eyes gleam at the prospect of eviscerating Ted so Hasbro can manufacture a new teddy that will sell millions. Of course, Jessup wants to exploit this opportunity, but he reminds Donnie that he cannot be implicated in this pseudo crime. Altogether, Jessup’s earlier opinion of Donnie has changed and he realizes that this nincompoop may be a genius. That Hasbro would allow themselves to participate in this irreverent farce is amazing considering the unfavorable shade of evil in which MacFarlane and company paints them.
Mind you, Ted the talking teddy still looks as adorable as he did in first film, especially when he dresses up in a suit and tie. You never get the impression that the cast was interacting with nothing when the CGI Ted was on-screen with them. While the front and center Ted dominates the action with his woes, Mark Wahlberg’s John stands out as his best friend. Until “Ted” and now again with “Ted 2,” Wahlberg has deviated rarely from playing a straight-up, conventional, role model, W.A.S.P. protagonist. As he did initially with “Ted,” Wahlberg appears to be poaching on Adam Sandler territory with some of his absurd antics. The splashy scene in the sperm facility and the looney episode in Tom Brady’s mansion make John the butt of the jokes, and Wahlberg displays no inhibitions to playing second banana to Ted while ridiculing himself in the process. The dialogue again qualifies as quotable material with politically incorrect meanings. Although the sight gags are amusing, particularly in the Comics convention scene, this above-average gross-out comedy serves up some pretty impudent shenanigans. Indeed, if vulgar humor poses no problems, “Ted 2” is right for you.