Director : Seth MacFarlane
Screenplay : Seth MacFarlane & Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild (story by Seth MacFarlane)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2012
Stars : Mark Wahlberg (John Bennett), Mila Kunis (Lori Collins), Seth MacFarlane (Ted), Joel McHale (Rex), Giovanni Ribisi (Donny), Patrick Warburton (Guy), Matt Walsh (Thomas), Jessica Barth (Tami-Lynn), Aedin Mincks (Robert), Bill Smitrovich (Frank), Patrick Stewart (Narrator), Norah Jones (Herself), Sam J. Jones (Himself), Tom Skerritt (Himself), Bretton Manley (Young John)
Seth MacFarlane’s feature film debut Ted delivers pretty much exactly what you would expect from the creator of the animated sitcom Family Guy, and it will no doubt appeal primarily to those who eat up his particular stew of nonsequitor humor, surreal digressions, ’70s and ’80s pop-culture adoration, adolescent raunch, and equal-opportunity politically incorrect offensiveness. The film tells the story of a lonely 8-year-old boy who wishes that his new plush teddy bear would come to life, which it does, and what happens to them once the boy grows up (or doesn’t). Like a lot of comedies based in the juvenile love of offending polite society (a hopelessly broad target), Ted pretends to be about the need for its protagonist to grow up, but not-so-secretly relishes his continued arrested development because, without what it represents, MacFarlane wouldn’t have a career making TV shows about erudite talking dogs and diabolical babies and movies about man-children and their lewd teddy bears.
A supposed grown-up at 35 years of age, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is going nowhere, barely keeping down a job at a rental car company in downtown Boston while enjoying the material benefits provided by the corporate career of his level-headed, endlessly understanding girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). John’s major obstacle to maturity is Ted, the magically alive teddy bear who has devolved from being a worldwide celebrity (he even appeared on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson!) into a slovenly, dope-smoking, philandering partyhound whose original squeaky voice has been replaced by the same Bah-stahn nasal tones that MacFarlane imparts to Peter Griffin on Family Guy. “Thunder Buddies” to the end, John and Ted spend much of their time on the sofa in John and Lori’s apartment, hitting the bong and watching bad movies, particularly 1980’s fantasy campfest Flash Gordon, a holy grail of unintended comedy.
The story hinges on Lori finally becoming fed up with John’s lack of ambition and devotion to his childhood teddy bear and essentially putting up a him-or-me mandate. John tries desperately to be the mature adult, even asking Ted to move into his own apartment, but every time he is on the cusp of truly embracing adulthood, the phone rings and Ted is on the other end begging him to come to a party or ditch work to get high. Not surprisingly, John tends to give in to Ted’s invitations to indulge the rambunctious joys of his id and set aside Lori’s desire for stability and maturity. Of course, because Ted is, at its core, a slacker-male fantasy, it wants to have its cake and eat it too, celebrating the idea that John can remain a kid at heart and in practice while still securing an adult relationship with Lori. In other words, perpetual adolescence triumphs, which Wahlberg embodies quite ably, conveying John’s every-dude decency with broad strokes that are comfortably familiar and infinitely reassuring to the target audience.
Kunis, on the other hand, is given the relatively thankless job of playing the film’s fantasy version of a super-ego: attractive, intelligent, and infinitely patient and understanding (when she has finally had enough, we know that she will eventually come around). She plays right into MacFarlane’s wish fulfillment that beautiful, successful women will put up with immature, underachieving man-children as long as they make them laugh. The supporting roles are filled out by a varied roster of character actors and comedic personalities, including Community’s Joel Hale as Lori’s obnoxious, self-inflated boss and Giovanni Ribisi as a creepy fan of Ted’s who wants to buy him for his spoiled son. MacFarlane also manages to slip in a few unlikely cameos, including Flash Gordon himself Sam J. Jones, who plays a lecherous, coke-snorting fictional version of himself that unfortunately plays like a pale imitation of Neal Patrick Harris’s shtick in the Harold & Kumar movies (I doubt we’ll be seeing Jones hosting the Emmys any time soon).
The presence of Sam J. Jones in Ted and the recurring jokes about Flash Gordon remind us that, like Family Guy, Ted is arguably about nothing more than MacFarlane’s own pop culture obsessions, with the movie being little more than an excuse for the director to give the big-screen treatment to his own personal laundry list of likes and dislikes. In the former category we have, of course, Star Wars, so-bad-they’re-good movies, and more Star Wars; in the latter category, we have Katy Perry, ’90s pseudo-alt rock, and Brandon Routh. Sometimes the references to the movies, television, and music of MacFarlane’s own childhood and teenage years land, especially when they’re tossed off in quick comments and asides, but all too often they feel like the star of the show, with MacFarlane stuffing his preferences into the dialogue of everyone on-screen (and even off-screen, as in the case of Patrick Stewart’s solemn narrator, who is not above slipping into digressions about the firepower of Apache helicopters). The film’s one moment of truly inspired pop-culture hilarity involves an unexpected solo dance by Ribisi to the music video for Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which works not because of any inherent hilarity of bad ’80s mall rock, but rather because Ribisi sells the character’s infatuation with such single-minded intensity. It’s a small gem of comedy in a movie that is mostly content to fling what it can at the screen—whether it be crass or sentimental—and be fine with whatever sticks.
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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