Rating: 14A – Coarse Language, Sexual Content, Substance Abuse
Run Time: 106 minutes
Ted is about a proudly vulgar teddy bear in a proudly vulgar comedy. Both of the same name. There is nothing really warm and fuzzy about this movie, except perhaps at the beginning and the more or less obligatory final shots.
The opening dawns on A Christmas Story-like childhood life of John Bennett, who resides comfortably in his pleasant, picket-fenced Boston neighborhood with his mirthlessly optimistic parents. Narrated with a Jean Shepherd mock heroism by Patrick Stewart, we instantly sense Ted’s unruly ironic tone.
Because when John receives Ted as a Christmas gift, Ted’s voice is high-pitched and giggly and we sense, knowing the premise, Ted is no child’s toy. Twenty-seven years later, Ted has taken the “Corey Feldman” route (as our narrator claims) and developed a lazy, potty-mouthed and irreverent attitude. You might confuse him with John Belushi in the days of Animal House. Ted is no kindred spirit, except to John (Mark Wahlberg) whose relationship with Ted is stuck in the times of a devil-may-care adolescence.
Their habits are challenged by John’s hardworking and gorgeous girlfriend Lori, played by the charming Mila Kunis who demonstrated with Friends with Benefits that she has a knack for couple chemistry. Her and Wahlberg are a solid collaboration; unfortunately, Lori is written as obligatory counterpoint to John and Ted’s shenanigans. She browbeats a lot and is given only a paucity of the jokes. In fact, Family Guy-creator Seth MacFarlane – who helms Ted’s ship as director, writer, voice star, and producer – leaves most of the one-liners at his own disposal. Even Wahlberg is more of a straight man, who straps on impossible credulity in the face of Ted’s absurd antics.
Ted, however, plays almost nothing for granted. Most of the gags are in-jokes or parodies on top of parodies of some contemporary phenomenon. MacFarlane’s humor is exclusively 2000s, making today’s pop culture the butt of the joke. That is except for the cameo of Flash Gordon’s ’80s action icon Sam J. Jones. He is John’s enduring idol who shows up at one of Ted’s shindigs and “parties” (*rub nose* – you follow me?) a little too hard and ends up quarreling with a rooster.
Suffice is to say Ted makes daring comic use of the pedophile-pairing of Giovanni Ribisi and Aedin Mincks. They serve, I suppose, as the comedy’s antagonists who offer a chase scene at the end in the spirit of Hitchcock. Thus, Ted doesn’t conclude generically and instead happily ups the absurdity – to the point our heroes and villains are dangling above the Green Monster at Fenway Park. At that moment, MacFarlane cleverly homages Hitchcock’s Saboteur with the suspenseful tearing of his fur. Meanwhile, Lori’s boss, Rex (Joel McHale), is an obnoxious flirt who gets in the way of things. His character is kind of a chore to watch.
It is all very silly and, for the most part, fun. None of it is portrayed seriously at all, but in spite of that the midsection of Ted does sag a bit. For awhile we are pursuing a rote rom-com between Lori and John that confines the further potential of the screenplay. We wonder: is Ted really this predictable or is it trying to be this predictable? This uncertainty puts a gap in the pace, as Ted wanders from romance clichés to raucous originality and, as a result, contrivances start to set in and suck out the genuine feelings of these characters.
Luckily, Ted finds its way back. Why? MacFarlane’s wit, despite the arbitrary nature of this plot, is so bluntly delivered an unashamed by its crudeness. Both the physical and verbal comedy are unflinching. It is no holds barred, leaving MacFarlane to a fresh bag of comedic tricks that only overstays its welcome with a few unnecessary 9/11 references and racial stereotypes. I understand MacFarlane’s efforts to mock Flash Gordon’s villain Emperor Ming the Merciless, but in that case he should have got Max von Sydow.
But here I am mentioning Emperor Ming when I must confess Flash Gordon is beyond (or is it below?) me. I am not a Family Guy fanboy, so some of MacFarlane’s zingers went over my head. If you are like me, you might find yourself turning to the audience for the occasional cue for laughter. On its own, however, Ted is a good sitcom-y sorta frolic, that knows damn well it is a comedy…but not really a movie. There is little effort to carry the plot here, and thank goodness considering what we get in that department.
I will report that I laughed. More than I thought I would. There is something so wild and unforgiving in MacFarlane’s writing that Ted rises above basic vulgarity. I had fun, but can admit the caveats: Ted is contrived, profane, and – most especially – not for children. Parents, trust me when I say the relationship between John and Ted is less Jon Arbuckle and Garfield and more Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen. Rogen being the teddy bear – obviously. Coincidence both share the same first name?