Ted 2: Extended Edition (2015)

aka Ted 2: Unrated

2016 #94
Seth MacFarlane | 121 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15

Ted 2Comedy sequels often struggle, and writer-director-producer-star Seth MacFarlane’s in-between feature was sporadically odious, so I approached Ted 2 with trepidation. While it can’t match the freshness of its predecessor, it’s certainly no AMWtDitW.*

The plot (about Ted trying to become a legally recognised person) exists to string together comedic set pieces. Perhaps that’s why the pace feels off: individual parts are funny, but it’s slow going. That’s not the fault of the extended cut (details here) — the additions include at least one of the funniest bits.

Not a surprise success like the first, then, but an amusing couple of hours.

3 out of 5

* The length of that title is anathema to a word-limited review. ^

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

2015 #52
Seth MacFarlane | 111 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English & Navajo | 15 / R

A Million Ways to Die in the WestThe second feature from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, after the justly popular Ted, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a disappointing mixed bag, half pretty-decent character- and situation-based comedy, half cringingly infantile toilet-humour tomfoolery.

MacFarlane stars as Wild West sheep farmer Albert, whose love of his life (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him for the owner of the town’s moustache shop (Neil Patrick Harris). Albert accidentally befriends new-in-town Anna (Charlize Theron) who, unbeknownst to him, is the girlfriend of the West’s most notorious outlaw (Liam Neeson) and is only laying low in his small town for a couple of weeks. A plot of love triangles and gunfighting ensues, littered with the aforementioned extremes of comedy.

One of the film’s problem is that said story is definitely too long in the telling — it feels like its reaching the end about halfway through, then it just keeps going… and going… The bigger problem, however, is the depths plumbed by its ‘humour’.

If you stick with it, there are some genuinely funny, clever bits. There are even some genuinely funny, not-clever-but-amusing bits. Unfortunately, there’s a shedload of puerile gags that just demean the whole thing, and it doesn’t help that some of the worst are early on, setting up poor expectations. They’re so bad I’m embarrassed to have seen them, so I’m certainly not repeating any examples — though one, involving Harris, the result of laxatives, Challenge acceptedand two other men’s hats, briefly has a funny bit in the middle when he tries to acquire the second hat. The film also uses swearing as a comedic crutch too often. I’m not one of those people who’s only tolerant of swearing if they feel each and every use is absolutely justifiable, and I don’t object to it as just part of dialogue, but too often the film leans on someone saying “oh shit” (or whatever) as if that’s a serviceable punchline.

For movie and pop culture fans, there’s entertainment to be had from some fun cameos and allusions, many of them literally “blink and you’ll miss it” (watch out, for instance, for a Family Guy cast member’s name, and a catchphrase callback the writers inserted accidentally). One cameo in particular has been criticised by some for just being the guy turning up, but… honestly, that would be fine if you didn’t know about it in advance. If you spend the film waiting for him to turn up, the joke (such as it is) is already ruined — the gag is just him being there when you don’t expect it; so if you do expect it, there’s no gag. That’s the problem with a Surprise Cameo at any point after opening night. Would it be better if there was a joke beyond just the Surprise Cameo aspect? Well, yes. Does it work as just a Surprise Cameo? If you don’t know it’s there — if it is indeed a surprise — then, well, yes.

Death by bottle?The movie’s best running gag is its titular one. At first it just seems like the concept is going to be limited to Albert sitting in a saloon and listing ways to die, which isn’t funny; but then it keeps cropping back up, sometimes unexpectedly, which really works. The whole fair thing — a running gag within a running gag — is particularly effective. If the film had traded more on this, less on farting and other bodily functions, it would’ve been much improved.

Indeed, the following comment from iCheckMovies summarises my opinion perfectly:

A peculiar mixture of high and low brow comedy which makes it ultimately a bit uncomfortable. However there’s a sweet romance story hidden in there and a fun western (with some very clever gags) if you can get past its more crude side. Feels very much like it would have been quite a fun PG or 12 rated film if they had cut out the more unpleasant side.

That last sentence, in particular, is right on the money. The film’s good bits are genuinely likeable; if not a classic (as the Radio Times weirdly reckons), then a perfectly enjoyable comedy. The frequent doses of crude and toilet ‘humour’ drag the overall likability down massively, however. I think a PG-13 cut would be forced to be a superior movie. Black sheepI dread to think what the 19-minutes-longer unrated version is like.*

I’d like to be able to recommend A Million Ways to Die in the West. The bits I liked, I really enjoyed. The bits I hated, however, I really despised. The best I can say is that your mileage may vary — is it worth suffering the lows to have the highs?

3 out of 5

A Million Ways to Die in the West debuts on Sky Movies Premiere today at 4pm and 8pm.

* Though it does at least bother to explain why there’s suddenly a reference to Albert’s mother being dead late in the film — it screams “we deleted a scene!” in the theatrical version. ^

Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story (2005)

2011 #47
Pete Michels | 85 mins | DVD | 15

Following Family Guy’s cancellation after three seasons, it somehow found a new lease of life on DVD, posting surprising sales in what was, I suppose, the early years of the format’s mass take-off. This led to a rethink by Fox and a belated (as in, several years later) renewal for the animated sitcom. This story was originally intended to form a three-part opener to the first season back, but Fox wanted a direct-to-DVD movie too — presumably to capitalise financially on that previous success — and so those three episodes were retooled into a feature.

We know how this can turn out.

And it does feel like three Family Guy episodes stitched together. Much like that other stitched-together-from-three-animated-TV-episodes movie, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the events of part one (or the first twenty-odd minutes) seem entirely separated from the two-parter that makes up the back hour. Fortunately the Family Guy team seem to have more common sense than their Lucasfilm counterparts, choosing to link back round to the start for their film’s climax, tying it all together after all. Nice work.

The plot is more or less suitably movieised — despite that first-part almost-disjoint, it’s a more-epic-than-usual tale of Stewie’s origins (sort of) — though it seems slightly held back by its genesis as three TV episodesStewie's real history... maybe and the need for it ultimately to be split back up (it was broadcast, censored, as a three-parter at the end of the comeback season). With subplots that begin and end within each half-hour(-ish) segment, it plays about as well as watching a three-parter back to back… which is more than can be said for that Star Wars film. Consequently, it also feels just like regular Family Guy — the same level of humour, basically — though it seemed to me like there were more scatological jokes than normal, some of them going on too long as well. If you’re not a regular viewer of the series, references to running jokes will pass you by; equally, the nature of its humour, often based in cultural references, means that some bits that are obviously jokes will elicit no more than bafflement from a non-versed viewer. Still, there’s plenty of more universal humour too. It relies on the usual style of numerous non sequitur flashbacks and asides. Which, again, is fine — that’s their style; it would be wrong to be anything else.

The need to turn three TV-aimed episodes into a movie — and, somewhat ironically, back again afterwards — does have a few effects on proceedings. Various bits had to be cut for the broadcast version, most for the silly technicalities of US TV rules — the fact the DVD is rated 15 over here, Dinosaurthe same as the series normally is, shows how arbitrary US regulations are. It feels like there are a few more jokes that are slightly dirtier than normal and there are a few extra swear words, but they consciously didn’t go OTT with them and, thankfully, it shows. But actually, most of the stuff that’s cut (as detailed on the commentary or in full here) is for those daft US rules; so, stuff that just steps over a certain line; stuff that, to be honest, most Americans wouldn’t even notice.

Also, contractually the film had to make a certain length, so there’s some conscious padding in there — though, as they note on the commentary, they did their best to make the padding funny too. Take the intermission, for instance, which features just voices over a black “Intermission” screen: dirt cheap to animate (what with there being no animation) but it both adds a bit to the running time and smoothes the jump between parts two and three.

I don’t know how much I’ve reviewed the film and how much shared some behind-the-scenes tidbits here, but if you like Family Guy… well, you’ve probably already seen this (it’s been out, what, six years? I’m behind here), and if you don’t like it there’s nothing to change your mind. Brian, Stewie, sofaAnd if you’ve always been curious but never given it a go, don’t start here — I don’t think it would be incomprehensible to first-time viewers, but I don’t think it’s the best introduction to the series either, and it probably makes more sense if you know the characters a bit.

This score reflects that lack of universal appeal; for regular viewers, I’d say it’s good quality and probably four stars.

3 out of 5