In a lesser universe, this story of the misadventures of a miraculous, talking teddy bear and his human, 35-year-old best friend forever might have featured Adam Sandler (as the voice of the bear) and Jim Carrey (as the human-esque BFF). Or vice versa. Somewhere in the multiverse, that’s probably the case, and if so, woe unto the denizens of that poor, pitiful planet. They probably have the Robert Altman version of The Godfather, too. We, on the other paw, have received the mixed blessing of the first live-action feature film by Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy). The cast is fine; the script teasingly self-referential and packed with MacFarlane’s practically trademarked, gleefully coarse wit; and the digitally animated Ted is a visually flawless creation.
So what’s not to love? For starters, there’s the inescapable fact that Ted is, no matter how you stuff it, yet another man-child buddy movie – and all that that implies. The film opens in Boston in 1985 with a plummy narration by Patrick Stewart, explaining how one Christmas young John Bennett, an everyboy outsider, wishes his new teddy bear to living, breathing (sort of) life. Voilà! Voiced by the director (“Oh c’mon! I don’t sound that much like Peter Griffin!” Ted says at one point), the bear is nonetheless extremely close kin to MacFarlane’s seemingly unstoppable television family.
Cutting forward to the present, John is spinning his wheels in a dead-end job while sharing wake ‘n’ bake bong hits and zoning out to Mike Hodges’ 1980 camp disaster, Flash Gordon. He’s somehow managed to hold on to girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) for four years – mainly because, as MacFarlane repeatedly shows, he’s a lovable lout with a huge heart beneath all that crass irresponsibility. Mark Wahlberg has a knack for playing stupid-sweet, but John’s no dummy. It takes him a while to put away his childish things, but it’s hardly a spoiler to say that the big galoot succeeds in the end.
The comedy here, as in most everything else MacFarlane has done, arises from a deep well of political incorrectness, and although we’ve heard much of this before (variations upon a misanthropic theme, so to speak), there were more than a few waves of genuine laughter that swept through the audience at the screening I attended. But did jaded, cynical me bust a gut right alongside them? Several times, yes. (And, to judge from his rarely erring rapier wit, I’d wager I’m not half as jaded and cynical as MacFarlane.) Is Ted the director’s best work? Not really. There are episodes of Family Guy that make Ted feel like Winnie the Pooh. But it’s an impressively cohesive feature debut, despite the fact that – really, let’s face it – we’ve seen it all before, in one form or another.
TED (2½) • Directed by Seth MacFarlane. • Starring Mark Walhberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi. • Rated R; 106 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Cannery Row XD.