Ted (United States, 2012)June 28, 2012
Ted is essentially a one-joke movie. Okay, it's a very funny joke, but it's still only one joke. As a short, this could have been brilliant - hilarious, irreverent, and blisteringly satirical. I laughed a lot during the first half hour, not as much during the second half hour, and still less during the rest. There's not quite enough material in the concept to fill a 100-plus minute motion picture. Director/writer Seth MacFarlane plugs some of the holes with his trademark impudence but there's still a feeling of padding. Ted starts out with a bang, though, and the problems it has with sustaining that high level are more an indictment of the length of the film than of the quality of the humor.
Ted opens in suburban Boston on the day before Christmas, 1985. With Patrick Stewart narrating, it briefly sounds like we're going to enter a world of magic and nostalgia... until we're told about the favorite pastime of WASPy pre-teen boys. Living in this idealized community is John Bennett (who will grow up to be played by Mark Wahlberg), a seven-year old outcast with no friends who immediately becomes attached to his favorite Christmas present: an oversized teddy bear. That night, he makes an ill-advised wish for Teddy to come to life and, because nothing is more powerful than a young boy's wish (except an Apache helicopter), John awakens to discover that, for the first time in his life, he has a best friend. The scene in which he introduces Teddy to his parents is priceless.
The bulk of the movie transpires 27 years later, with Ted (voice provided by Seth MacFarlene) and John hanging around as stoner brothers. Ted isn't your average cute, lovable, talking teddy bear. He curses like a longshoreman, smokes weed like a character in a Judd Apatow movie, and is as raunchy as one can imagine from a stuffed animal who is not anatomically correct. He's also a major impediment in the romantic relationship between John and his girlfriend of four years, Lori (Mila Kunis). Eventually, she becomes so weary of Ted's antics that she demands he move out - or else. Getting Ted his own apartment, however, doesn't solve the problem and, for John, it soon comes down to a simple choice: Ted or Lori.
While some of the comedy during the first 30-to-45 minutes arises from the concept of a smoking, drinking, swearing stuffed animal, it's more about MacFarlene's audaciousness than anything else. Known primarily as the creator of the animated programs Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show, MacFarlane is making his first venture into live action, and his brand of humor translates effectively, especially within the bounds of the R rating. He doesn't pull any punches, which is refreshing, and the use of a child's toy makes the film feel more "naughty" than it might otherwise. In terms of depravity and raunchiness, there's nothing in Ted that one-ups the material in The Hangover or Harold and Kumar - but that's plenty far out on the tightrope for a movie about a stuffed animal.
In order to stretch out the running length, MacFarlane inserts some odd subplots (including one featuring Lori's lecherous boss) and tangents (the creepy bear-napper played by Giovanni Ribisi) that propel the narrative forward in fits and starts. There's a heavy dose of '80s nostalgia that's capped off by repeated references to the 1980 camp classic Flash Gordon and features the star of that movie, Sam Jones, in costume (at age 58). Other cameos include Norah Jones, Tom Skerritt, and Ryan Reynolds. The Patrick Stewart narration is arguably MacFarlane's masterstroke, since no one can narrate quite like Stewart (except perhaps Morgan Freeman) and the content of the narration doesn't quite match what one expects from those powerful British pipes.
Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis play second and third fiddle to Ted, who is so well rendered that it's easy to forget he's a product of motion capture-driven special effects. Sometimes, the most pleasing uses of CGI come in little packages like this. Neither Wahlberg nor Kunis can boast an especially interesting character or story arc, and Wahlberg displays more chemistry with his fuzzy co-star than with his human love interest. The movie's emotional element relies heavily on the viewer's memories of a stuffed toy; therein lies the core of Ted's appeal. Ultimately, we're more likely to care about the relationship between Ted and John than the one between John and Lori. The screenplay especially shortchanges Kunis; her role requires little more than that she look attractive.
It's fair to argue that Ted suffers to a degree from a common problem with comedies - the inability to maintain comedic momentum over the full length of a movie. One wonders whether MacFarlane's unfamiliarity with the long format might be partially to blame; after all, his comfort level is in working with 22-minute bites. Whatever the case, Ted still generates more than enough laughs to justify the price of a ticket, but take the R-rating seriously. This is as family-friendly as a divorce lawyer; if you want a kids' film about a cuddly bear, seek out Winnie the Pooh.
Ted (United States, 2012)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane and Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild
Cinematography: Michael Barrett
Music: Walter Murphy