Ted and Madea’s Witness Protection: The Difficulties of Comedy Criticism
Two comedies came out this past weekend for which I am not the target audience. I readily admit that right off the bat. What then is the purpose of my reviewing these films? There were massive flaws in both Ted, Seth MacFarlane’s feature film debut, and Madea’s Witness Protection, what felt like a feature film debut but was actually Tyler Perry’s twelfth theatrical release. Pacing issues, structure issues, character development issues, but the chief issue for me personally was that I didn’t laugh very often. Ted had a more polished visual style but dragged to the point of exhaustion. Madea’s Witness Protection made me laugh more than Ted, but its visual style and utter contempt for economic use of film and dialogue baffled me. At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of the target audience for both of these films will inevitably accuse me of thinking too much, that it’s a comedy, that I should “lighten up.” But the films didn’t make me laugh very much. Should I break down why? Or should I merely accept that these are comedies made for target audiences uninterested in character, plot, structure, and pacing?
Ted is about a boy who wishes for his bear to come to life, and sure enough, it does. Up until the opening credits, the film covers the teddy bear’s rise to fame and spiral downward, and it feels pretty fresh and interesting. However, the second the credits end, it becomes clear that MacFarlane wants to focus on what he *actually* finds funny– a teddy bear drinking, smoking pot, having sex, and saying the F word. If you think these things are inherently funny, then this might be the funniest movie ever made in your opinion. Because he smokes pot a lot, he swears a lot, and he has sex a lot. Many of the punchlines in the film are the bear saying the F word or saying something like, “Can we smoke pot now?” If that line just made you laugh, you’re in for a treat. If that line made you wonder, “Huh, where’s the wit necessary to elevate the concept to its highest potential?” then you’re asking yourself the same question I asked myself throughout Ted’s considerable run time.
Certain one-liners here and there stand out, usually the ones that don’t have any swear words. Don’t misunderstand: swearing can be hilarious when combined with wit. The British satire In The Loop is more hilarious and shocking than Ted aspires to be. Not that I should even compare the two, since I guess MacFarlane fancies this adventure to fall into the Apatow wheelhouse where a manchild learns to grow up. The problem is… that doesn’t happen here. The film’s structure is: girlfriend mad, boyfriend promises to act right, bear tempts boyfriend, boyfriend parties, girlfriend mad, lather, rinse, repeat. This goes on for what the press release claims is 106 minutes but what felt longer than Return of the King. It also has more endings than Return of the King– there’s a big climax and confession of love at a concert that felt like the end, until I realized we had at least a half hour left. They spend the final act of the film not on the characters and their story arcs, but on rescuing Ted from Giovanni Ribisi’s utterly gratuitous character (he plays it well, for what that’s worth).
Madea’s Witness Protection doesn’t have the same pacing issues: for all of the problems it has, it does succeed in feeling shorter than its run time. The jokes fly quickly, Perry plays the characters of Madea and Joe with great energy, and there’s no woman-scorned plotline to drag down the comedy and shift the tone– a usual Tyler Perry trademark, I’m led to understand (this was my first Tyler Perry film experience in its entirety). The problems with Madea’s Witness Protection are largely technical. Perry’s theatrical background is clear, as shots are framed like a play, complete with characters standing facing out. There’s no action to speak of, outside of one car chase which is incoherently shot– everyone just stands and talks, often delivering huge amounts of exposition. Characters repeat lines three or four times in a row, and not just Perry, which leads me to believe the script is asking these actors to repeat lines constantly. No one ever says, “I can’t believe it!” They say, “I can’t believe it! This is unbelievable! I simply can’t believe it!”
More baffling than any of this is the second and a half of silence after every joke that Perry leaves in the film. When shooting, directors usually roll for a couple of moments after the final line is delivered before yelling “Cut!” so they have some extra footage to toy with in the editing room. It seems like Perry, in anticipation of raucous laughter at every turn, left in ALL of this extra footage. If a joke works, it feels like actors pausing for laughs, adding to the feeling like I’m watching a play, but if it doesn’t, then it feels like an actor forgot a line or an editor simply missed an extra two seconds needing trimming. It’s beyond explanation. There are other things beyond explanation as well– people go out of their way to avoid explaining Ponzi schemes, to the point where I wondered if the writer understood how they work, and in one utterly mind-boggling sequence of horrible writing/directing/editing, a five-character family is introduced individually by name to three new characters in three scenes in a row– but the pausing for laughter is the main jewel in this film’s Crown of Incompetence.
This leads to my main question: what’s the point? I already know how this article is going to play out. I will inevitably be called many profane names for stating my opinion on the various problems in these two comedies, insulted for attempting to use intelligence. Since I didn’t have a predilection for the humor of MacFarlane or Perry before entering the theatre, perhaps I never should have seen them in the first place. Besides, what’s the point in informing people that the films aren’t funny when I’m not the target audience and those reading the review likely aren’t either? People who think a teddy bear swearing is funny don’t see that trailer and think, “Hmmm… although that looked utterly hilarious, perhaps I should wait and see what some snooty bloggers think before I purchase my ticket.” They just see the film, turn off their brain, and enjoy themselves, as is anyone’s right. Lord knows I love turning off my brain for certain genres (made-for-Syfy-Channel creature features!), and I don’t begrudge those who do love this humor. Many people in my theater for Ted laughed very hard consistently, and I I actually enjoyed the communal experience of the Madea film, where folks laughed, yelled at the characters on screen and sang along to the hymns in the church scenes– it might have contributed to the aforementioned perceived energy of the film. It’s just tough to even want to write reviews of comedies that are flawed to the point where it affects their attempts at humor. Some people will read this and feel like I loved writing this article, because reviews of bad movies can be very fun to write. Sadly, I take zero pleasure in describing bad comedies. This’ll be my last MacFarlane or Perry film I see or review for the foreseeable future, because all I wanted was for these films to make me laugh consistently. For the combined nearly four hours of their run time, I laughed for maybe five minutes– less time than I spent afterward wondering what people would call me in the comments section of this review.
Note: I’m giving Ted a slightly higher score, because it does have more polish, stronger camera movement… in short, it looks more like a film made by professionals. However, it made me laugh less than Madea’s Witness Protection did. So take these scores with a grain of salt. If you even care anyway– if you’re still reading at this point, you likely weren’t going to see them anyway.
Madea’s Witness Protection: