As unabashedly idiotic movie comedies go, Ted goes fairly well. The feature directorial debut of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane stars Mark Wahlberg as a man child whose best friend is a talking teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane). And while this might seem like the premise of something precious and sensitive, like Lars and the Real Girl, Ted runs yelling in the opposite direction. It’s rude, crude, lewd and often funny. In other words, it’s a lot like MacFarlane’s animated show transferred to the big screen in a live-action story.
Mark Wahlberg, reverting to his homegrown Boston Southie accent, plays John Bennett, who, we learn in the long plummy-voiced introductory narration, was a little boy with no friends at all. When he wished for his teddy bear, Ted, to come alive, his wish came true.
And not just in that cutesy metaphorical Puff the Magic Dragon way. Back in the 1980s, Ted became a celebrity phenomenon (we see him bantering with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show), but he has since slid back into obscurity. John, now 35, has an underling job at a car rental agency and lives with the former-child-star bear in a crummy apartment in an emotionally arrested bromance. They smoke a lot of weed together and watch old movies. Somewhat improbably, John also has a hot girlfriend (Mila Kunis) who, after four years of patient waiting, decides to force the issue: It’s her or the teddy bear.
Followers of MacFarlane’s show will recognize many of the tropes here (MacFarlane’s co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild are both from the Family Guy series). There are the flashback or digression scenes that turn bizarre: Lori recalls her first meeting with John as an embarrassing nightclub accident where he was attempting to break dance and smacked her on the head. He recalls it as a combination of An Officer and a Gentleman and Saturday Night Fever.
Scenes in which Wahlberg sits around getting high and riffing with the ever-inappropriate bear are the movie’s highlights. Wahlberg’s childlike outbursts are winning, and the bear’s Triumph the Insult Dog-style is fairly amusing as well.
That said, MacFarlane’s formula begins to feel a bit relentless, a search-and-destroy campaign for the audience’s weak spots. Regular verbal shocks are followed by knowing pop culture references at rapid speed, with the idea of shaking laughs out of the audience. The shock jokes are deliberately excessive – anti-Semitism, homophobia, bullied children, rape, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and “kid cancer” are a few of the targets – though MacFarlane has the double defence of mocking both the ignorant as well as the politically correct. The pop culture references, from Brandon Routh’s Superman to Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill, are generally spot-on. And when actor Sam Jones, star of the ridiculous 1980 movie Flash Gordon, appears at Ted’s, the party is as outrageous as anything in The Hangover.
Ted’s glaring weakness is a last-act thriller subplot, designed to pad out the running time to feature length (Ted was originally conceived of as a TV series, and might work best in half-hour bites). Giovanni Ribisi pops up as a celebrity stalker with a pudgy, sociopathic son (Aedin Mincks) to kidnap Ted. Even in a mean movie, the sequence feels needlessly unpleasant, and worse, dull and sentimental. Among many offensive things in life, there are few as discomfiting as a satirist who drops his guard and shows his sloppy side.