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FREED from the gag-a-minute obligations of Family Guy and its various spinoffs, Seth MacFarlane demonstrates that he can actually win laughs with a single, coherent feature-length narrative storyline.

Granted, that storyline is as high-concept as an '80s body switch movie: Little friendless kid Johnny wishes his teddy bear could be his best pal, and magically, the toy comes to life. And by the time Johnny is a man of 35 (Mark Wahlberg), Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) has grown up with him as a lewd, crude, slacker who loves noting better than to get high and watch the magnificent '80s awfulness that is Flash Gordon.

That existence might be fine, except Johnny is celebrating his fourth year with his girlfriend (Mila Kunis), and, well, it might be time to grow up past the teddy bear. (MacFarlane is an atheist, but the whole movie does seem a perverse meditation of the line in Corinthians: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

As with Family Guy, the humour is still rude, perhaps even more so on the "unrated" Blu-ray edition. But MacFarlane has honed his vocal delivery to the point where just about everything the bear says is funny, as when Ted must don a cute little suit and tie to go to a job interview, observing: "I look like something you give your kid when you tell him grandma died."

The Blu-ray DVD extras include a deconstruction of the knock-down, drag-out fight between Johnny and Ted that demonstrates just how challenging it is to work with a plush toy, and how Wahlberg rose to the occasion, not just in sharing scenes, but acting as a pretty adept straight man. 'Ö'Ö'Ö 1/2 out of five

The Bourne Legacy

GIVEN that this fourth entry in the Bourne movies is something of a squeeze at the franchise cash cow, a better title might have been The Bourne Lactation.

But co-writer/director Tony Gilroy (who had a hand in the screenplay of all the previous Bourne movies but did not direct any of them) adds something fresh into the mix with a new tormented hero, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), and a different dynamic: The Bourne Legacy is largely an old-school damsel-in-distress story.

Another super-assassin in the secret program that also created Matt Damon's amnesiac superspy Jason Bourne, Cross is training in the wilds of Alaska when the events of the third film, The Bourne Supremacy, are taking place. A cadre of ruthless government overseers headed by Edward Norton's Col. Eric Byer are forced to pull the plug on the program, which means disposing of all the super-agents.

The resourceful Cross survives the attempt on his life and makes a beeline for a medical facility where he has been prescribed "chems" that sustain his super-agent mojo. Unfortunately, the whole plug-pulling thing encompasses the medical team that helped create Team Bourne, resulting in a massacre that leaves only one survivor, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz).

Aaron and Marta, it appears, need each other to survive.

As with the previous films, drama is wrung from a combination of manly running/fighting/shooting in one location with government operatives monitoring in another video-screen-equipped location. The Bourne movies nail the contemporary phenomenon of remote-control violence perpetrated by white-collar techies both physically and emotionally removed from the messy business of bloodletting.

Gilroy generates considerable tension too, whether in a pretty spectacular climactic chase through the streets of Manila, or the especially riveting scene in which Marta is visited at home by a government psychologist with an unsavoury notion of the concept of debriefing. 'Ö'Ö'Ö 1/2

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2012 C13

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