Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane turns to feature films with the comedy Ted. Ron finds out whether the transition's been a successful one...
In mid-1980s Massachusetts, young John Bennett is the loneliest kid in the neighborhood. He doesn't have any friends, and in fact he's so ignored he can't even get beaten up by the local bullies. At Christmas, when John's parents give him a great big teddy bear, that bear becomes John's best friend almost instantly. They go on adventures, they read and talk late at night. John loves Ted; the only problem is, Ted's not a real friend. That is, until John makes a fateful wish and his fuzzy friend becomes a real-life person. Err, bear.
Ted becomes an instant sensation, but that kind of fame never lasts forever. However, when you're thunder buddies, you're thunder buddies for life. Hence, 27 years later, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voice of Seth MacFarlane, shape by Satan's minions via CGI) are still the best of friends, pounding beers, watching sports, and indulging in a serious weed habit together. John's a counter monkey at a rental car service, while his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) is some sort of corporate high-riser with a great salary, a sleazy boss named Rex (Joel McHale), and a serious problem with Ted.
Unfortunately for Teddy and John, the friction between best friend and girlfriend can sometimes be too much for both relationships. After a confrontation, Ted moves out. He gets a crappy apartment over a chow mein shop, a lousy job, and a white-trash girlfriend. Seems like Ted's getting his stuff together, right? Not so fast, my friends; there's also the little matter of Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), who is a little too into Ted for Ted's own good.
If you like everything Seth MacFarlane does, then you'll probably love Ted. It's got all the classic hallmarks of a MacFarlane joint. There's the bare skeleton of a plot, scatological humor, cut-away gags, random stuff happening, a pointless, overly-long fight scene, and multiple incidents of drinking and drug-taking. There's also more pop culture references than you can shake a cliché at, because why would Seth MacFarlane try to be funny without taking the shortest and easiest route to a punchline possible?
The script is a 106-minute Family Guy episode in every way possible. It's scatter shot and opts for unfocused shotgun blasts in the general direction of humour rather than pinpoint bullets right to the funny bone. There are some laughs to be found, including a couple of real screamers in the beginning courtesy of Patrick Stewart's opening voice-over. Like a lot of MacFarlane comedy, once you get over the initial shock of a teddy bear cursing and smoking pot, the laughter fades. It doesn't help that MacFarlane has only three character voices – Stewie, Stan Smith, and Peter – and he does two of them during this movie. (Ted is Peter, and for some reason Ted also lapses into Stewie at one point; this is probably a nod to MacFarlane's fan base.)
The film's wobbliness is due in no small part to the inconsistent script from MacFarlane and his co-conspirators Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin. It keeps firing jokes throughout its run time, but it slips abruptly from a romantic bromedy with stoners to a kidnapping plot and redemption story, completely with heavy-handed musical cues designed to remind you to feel something. What the movie demands you feel from moment to moment depends on the music, and not any real sentiment generated by the story.
To say that Seth MacFarlane is a subtle director would be to redefine subtle completely. Ted's a jerk, John is an idiot, and Lori is a shrew who is tolerated mostly because she's hot. There's a turn at the end of the film, but it's abrupt. Like all of his projects, Ted is a glimpse into MacFarlane as a person, from his interest in 80s sci-fi and his love of drinking and drug humour to his attitudes on pop culture and his love of self-referential humor. To MacFarlane's credit, the movie has a manic energy to it, without feeling rushed, but it's not exactly an action movie.
The film starts out well, but falls apart as it goes on and Ted's concept grows thin. The cast is talented but wasted, especially supporting players like Patrick Warburton, Joel McHale, and Giovanni Ribisi. Relationships never really seem to develop, and the movie seems as though MacFarlane came up with the pitch but never really developed past the initial idea that it would be funny to see a stuffed bear doing cocaine with Flash Gordon.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan would have probably put Ted into a wood chipper by the time he was 24, though he has a beloved teddy bear from when he was a baby. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.