Ted (2012) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA rated: R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug use
Running time: 106 min.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kinis, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Warburton, Matt Walsh, Jessica Barth, Aedin Mincks, Sam Jones, Patrick Stewart (narrator)
Cameo: Norah Jones, Tom Skerritt, Ralph Garman, Alex Borstein, Ryan Reynolds
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Seth MacFarlane, best known as the creator of TV's "The Family Guy", directs and co-scripts his first feature film with Ted, a raunchy R-rated comedy that stars Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Max Payne) as a 35-year-old Bostonian, John Bennett, who has maintained an improbably friendship with a childhood teddy bear, voiced by MacFarlane (Hellboy II) , that had miraculously come to life as fulfillment of a childhood wish for friends. All is swell, as Ted gained a great deal of popularity and notoriety, only to finally have the once rampantly curious public no linger phased by having him in the public eye. John and Ted remain best friends even through the four-year courtship between John and his very forgiving girlfriend Lori (Kunis, Friends with Benefits). However, Lori is tired of waiting for John to pop the question, wondering when the man-child will finally take the first step from giving up his childhood desire to play video games, watch cheesy movies, party, smoke weed and veg out, to becoming a man, a husband, a provider. Ted's been a bad influence, and for John to step up, his beloved teddy bear will have to step out.
Fans of MacFarlane will likely have no problem enjoying Ted, as it features the two types of humor he is best known for: vulgarity and pop culture references. Without these crutches, there's not a good deal left to this bromance, as it merely exists in order to elicit bawdy chuckles and knowing smiles. Even though MacFarlane has more room to roam now that he's not having to worry about corporate censors and concerned sponsors, Ted isn't quite the envelope-pushing satire that some might be waiting for him to bust out with. In fact, one might call Ted a little too safe in terms of where the story leads, as it goes through familiar motions, albeit in a funny way, ultimately ending right about where you'd expect the tale to go from the beginning.
Much of this can be forgiven, of course, because MacFarlane can still deliver some quite funny moments, even if he tends to rely far too much on farts and the 1980s for his bag of tricks. But the film still has its share of lulls and missteps, which is especially evident during the darker sequences involving Giovanni Ribisi (Avatar, Public Enemies) as an creepy, amoral father who is willing to do anything to kowtow to the demands of his portly and selfish young son (Mincks, The Hangover Part II), including kidnapping Ted into what turns out to be an abusive home life.
The relationship between Wahlberg and Kunis' characters is thinly defined, and not the stuff you'd expect to see after four years of having a commitment to one another. Both actors play their roles relatively straight, bouncing off of the antics generated by Ted as well as the colorful characters around them. There is a recurring set of gags involving one of John and Ted's favorite films to watch together, the gaudy actioner Flash Gordon, which is referred to as something they know is bad, but great at the same time. A sizeable role is dedicated to Flash Gordon's beefy star, Sam Jones, who engages the duo into all forms of debauchery. The few fans of Flash Gordon will enjoy such scenes, but the references will likely be lost on most of the movie-going public, who've never seen the big screen bomb in their lifetimes.
Where Ted ultimately finds redemption as a movie is when it strikes a truthful chord in that borderline between when a maturing young man must finally 'let go of childish things' and become a real man. Ted is the representation of childhood, which John has come to embrace for so many years he doesn't know any better. When Lori asks more out of John, a tug of war for his heart begins, as he loves both Lori and Ted, but finds that the two aren't able to find a way to coexist with what they need. Eventually, it's John's inner conflict of whether to continue to embrace his arrested development, or to move on with maturation through life, that is the driving conflict, and quite an astute metaphor to emerge from a film that will best be remembered for its crassest of moments.
You have to have a liking, or at least a tolerance, for low-brow humor to come away enjoying Ted, and the more you chuckle at how politically incorrect it is, I suspect the more you'll get out of it. Sometimes it is quite clever, other times the jokes fall flat and ugly, but the hit rate manages to just stay consistent enough to garner Ted a reserved recommendation in the end.
©2012 Vince Leo