For Seth MacFarlane fans, the foul mouthed fantasy comedy Ted will hold a great deal of amusement, but it’s hard to think that even his most die hard supporters won’t start to get a little antsy with the Family Guy creator’s awkwardly conceived first feature. It’s not altogether unfunny or without amusing moments, but the rapid fire joke delivery system MacFarlane uses on his television shows never quite makes the leap to the big screen because this film tries to actually have a narrative, something that the writer/director/co-star of the film simply can’t handle.
A young and socially awkward Boston area tyke named John Bennett finds his childhood best friend by way of an honest to goodness Christmas miracle when he wishes for his teddy bear to come to life. After a childhood spent watching his bear become a media sensation, the grown up versions of John (Mark Wahlberg) and Teddy (voiced by MacFarlane) spend most of their days getting stoned and watching 1980’s Flash Gordon repeatedly. When the amorous and irresponsible Ted runs afoul of John’s girlfriend of four years (Mila Kunis), it comes time for Ted and John to part ways for the good of a more grown-up relationship.
Wahlberg does some great work here, once again showing that his talents when it comes to comedy are often underused, and he has a great chemistry with MacFarlane who despite not really being on screen plays off his human counterpart wonderfully. Kunis doesn’t really have all that much to do, which is a bit of a shame considering just how much of a workhorse she has been for MacFarlane on Family Guy. Also working in the film’s favour are several unusual cameos, the funniest of which involves the best buddies’ favourite movie. If anything, Ted pretty much assures that Universal’s notorious bomb of a Flash Gordon film will finally end up in the black after just over 30 years.
The real scene stealers here are the guys in the effects department, though. As a character Ted feels completely real and MacFarlane integrates him into this world perfectly. Seeing him drive a car or make out with a hooker seems astoundingly lifelike, and a hotel fight between Ted and John simply dazzles because I can’t honestly think of how they pulled it off and made something that intensely physical look that real.
The actual core concept behind Ted would be far more suited for a television series that could better flesh out ideas and relationships between the characters than it entirely works here. MacFarlane seems confused as to whether or not to stick to the gags that have served him so well on the small screen or to try for something a bit further reaching. If he had simply stuck to the former, the film would’ve been more successful. The gags, despite bearing the undoubtedly provocative nudges at racism, sexism, and homophobia (the last of which drips from every frame of this endeavour), are what the film’s creator is most comfortable doing.
Unfortunately the film drags out to 104 minutes for no good reason thanks to numerous uninteresting sequences where John’s girlfriend has to chastise him for being a man-child, which could serve the narrative better if any of these characters were even developed in the slightest. Subplots involving the working lives of the characters (including Teddy’s first job as a grocery store cashier) never have any pay off, even when it seems like they were supposed to. Joel McHale shows up as Kunis’ lecherous and douchy boss, and he’s mostly fine, but instead of giving him any real commupance the movie just kind of shrugs him off like he wasn’t really even there to begin with.
The film’s final act also suffers horribly because of how icky and serious it gets, by deciding to end the film with a subplot devoted to a creepy stalkerish fan of Ted’s (played by Giovanni Ribisi, cementing his reputation as of late for being the go-to on screen psycho) and his angry, overweight son kidnapping the bear. Again, this would be fine if the film did a better job establishing a tone or making us care about the characters beforehand, but it’s such a thoroughly dark moment in an otherwise affable film that it’s like playing a guitar with a handgun instead of a pick. It does manage an interesting reference to the Tiffany stalker documentary I Think We’re Alone Now, though.
The ending sinks the film just south of me being able to fully recommend seeing it in a theatre unless you’re either drunk, high, or a MacFarlane completist because it exposes the wishy-washy nature of his productions magnified and transferred to a larger canvas. Every time MacFarlane makes a tasteless joke, there’s always some sort of a quick retraction or a wink or a musical cue to let the audience know that he’s messing with them. He doesn’t want to offend you, but he wants to kind of offend you. Here the ending should logically come slathered in a sense of sentimentality, but he doesn’t want to seem like a “pussy” so he grafts it onto something akin to a suspense thriller. He wants to make you cry, but, you know, only because you were so scared. But what he doesn’t seem to understand is that without great characters, no stylistic pushing of boundaries could really make you care what happens to them.