Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Seth MacFarlane certainly isn’t without his many haters. As the creator and mastermind behind the hit Fox animated series Family Guy, the 38-year-old shotcaller has amassed a loyal, enthusiastic following of youngsters and man-children everywhere who appreciate the show’s rampant pop culture references and random cutaway jokes, all of which tend to leave such things as character development and plot by the wayside.
It’s a take-it-or-leave-it program, that Family Guy, but it seems that MacFarlane himself is determined to change popular opinion of him. With Ted, his first big Hollywood movie as a director (for which he also voice-acted, co-wrote, and produced), MacFarlane keeps the nods to geek culture intact, yet, wisely and impressively, he also pumps a rich, at times genuinely touching, story of friendship into the script’s loudly beating heart.
And hats off to Mark Wahlberg for going against his touch guy image to help MacFarlane achieve that goal. Playing John Bennett, an unmotivated but kind and likeable 35-year-old guy who refuses to grow up, Wahlberg holds Ted in a performance that proves he’s at his best when indulging in his subtle, generally slept-on comedic abilities.
The source of his John’s stunted manhood: Ted (MacFarlane), a living, breathing, and profanity-spewing teddy bear that came to life back when John wished for it to happen as a friendless 8-year-old. As the film’s humorously effective prologue and opening credits show, Ted’s unbelievable capabilities were embraced by the world at first, turning the stuffed animal into a celebrity; but, as the narrator points out, and as it goes with any and all famous people, eventually “nobody gives a shit.” Thus, Ted spends his “adult” life smoking pot, getting hammered, and taking advantage of loose girls who get turned on by his cuddly exterior.
For those who enter the theater without any anti-Seth MacFarlane agendas, Ted should register as the year’s best summer comedy.
John doesn’t seem to mind Ted’s hard-partying ways, but the grown-up man’s beautiful and altogether cool girlfriend of four years, Lori (gorgeous Mila Kunis, excelling in a thinly written role), is growing tired of their camaraderie. She wants to get married, and John’s constant antics with Ted aren’t allowing the rent-a-car shop employee to take that next step with her.
OK, so, yes, Ted basically has the same plot as last year’s The Muppets, in which Jason Segel’s chick, played by Amy Adams, gave him the “It’s either me or the little doll” ultimatum. One can easily detect hints of the age-old narrative conceit most recently used in the FX series Wilfred, too. MacFarlane’s film is lacking in a surplus of originality, there’s no doubt about it, but what Ted does have in bulk is laugh-out-loud comedic moments, many rooted in his Family Guy-esque sensibilities.
There’s a hilarious running joke about John and Ted’s shared love for the campy 1980 superhero turkey Flash Gordon that culminates into one of the funniest party sequences in recent memory, with drugs, a brawl, and an unexpected but well-played cameo from an Hollywood A-lister. Other effective winks at the culture of old include repeated love for Alien star Tom Skerritt, Tiffany’s ’80s pop jam “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and the theme song from Octopussy.
Ted’s third act goes slightly off the hinges, centered around one bear-obsessed fan (a creepy Giovanni Ribisi), who takes his love for Ted a bit too far, and the film becomes a comedic thriller out of nowhere. Even in its tonally uneven final section, though, MacFarlane’s flick retains its central theme, that of the strong bond between John and Ted, a tightness sold exceptionally well by Wahlberg, who’s required to spend the movie’s entirety having heart-to-heart chats with a (nicely rendered and designed) CGI creation. He’s even asked to have a brutal, bare-knuckle fight with the doll, in one of the film’s most skillfully executed sequences.
Ted isn’t likely to convert the most humorless of MacFarlane’s skeptics, since the majority of its humor derives from the same pop-cult pulse as Family Guy. But for those who enter the theater without any anti-Seth agendas, Ted should register as the year’s best summer comedy at this point in the game. When all is said and done, funny is funny, and you’d have to be made of personality-deficient granite not to laugh hard at the film’s strongest moments, particularly Ted’s job interview with a grocery store manager, which ticks with arguably the funniest dialogue exchange of 2012—it’s right up there with the drug trip from 21 Jump Street, and that’s saying something.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)