In a surprisingly smooth transition to live action, "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane shows with "Ted" that he's capable of a lot more than pop culture references and fart jokes. To be sure, there is plenty of each in "Ted" as well, but it's what goes on in between the shock value gags that makes "Ted" one of the funniest mainstream adult comedies that will hit theaters this year. Even if MacFarlane hits a few too many of the same notes - just like in "Family Guy" - anyone who vibes with "Ted" early on is in for a satisfying ride that is funnier than anything MacFarlane has done in years.
"Ted" all starts innocently enough. When young John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) makes a wish that his Christmas teddy bear would come to life, his wish is inexplicably granted in a funny intro that sets the tone for the entire movie. While his parents think it's beyond bizarre that a teddy bear can come to life, Ted seems harmless enough, and soon Ted becomes somewhat of a celebrity as he grows up as John's best and only real friend. The world may have been surprised when they first saw a talking teddy bear, but eventually - as Ted points out - nobody gives a rip.
Flash-forward from 1984 to 2012. Though their childhood years are spent watching television and mostly staying out of trouble, John and Ted soon become a pair of lazy burnouts too lacking in ambition to put down the bong and join the real world. Their lives have become a steady stream of Steven Spielberg movies and mild philosophical discussions - activities best enjoyed when sitting on the couch. Adult Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) has even learned to drive, with a contraption similar to what they saw Short Round pull off in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." To them, and perhaps to MacFarlane, growing up with the movies has made them real.
Though Ted is perfectly comfortable with his lifestyle, John's only outlet to the rest of the world is Lori (Mila Kunis), a beautiful and tolerant girlfriend who understands the odd bond between Ted and John. But even though she gets what makes John tick, eventually enough is enough and she needs John to stop hanging out with Ted and acting like a college kid. With Ted, that's easier said than done.
Also lurking about is Lori's boss Rex (Joel McHale), who plays the type of scumbag boss that you only see in the movies. As John teeters closer and closer to losing Lori forever, Rex looks to sweep in for the steal, mainly because he's the type of psycho who believes any girl he goes after should be honored.
Perhaps the most surprising part of "Ted" is the restraint and intelligence with which MacFarlane and Kunis handle Lori, who plays what usually amounts to a throw-away role in most comedies. Instead, Kunis' Lori is convincing and surprisingly authentic, the type of girl who has been patient longer than she should have. Most similar characters have blinders on to the creepy guy trying to sweep her off her feet, but she is too smart to go so easily. For a silly movie about a crude talking teddy bear, Kunis' sultry Lori is the type of character who could have been used for a more serious movie.
But even with a strong performance from Kunis and a few well-timed cameos, the movie still belongs to Wahlberg and MacFarlane, who play perfectly off each other. Wahlberg manages to avoid being your typical screen stoner and helps us forget that he's really just talking to a teddy bear. Ted, in true MacFarlane fashion, is the over-the-top loudmouth who can bounce from the lowest of low-brow to acute social observations at the drop of a hat. Though Ted isn't without his share of jokes that fall flat, his mercilessly cynical commentary has a life of its own.
Though "Ted" does slow a bit to allow a bizarre stalker (Giovanni Ribisi) into the plot, eventually we see that there is actually a purpose. Considering our heroes grow up with "Indiana Jones" and "Jurassic Park" posters on the wall, not to mention several "E.T." references, it shouldn't be surprising that we end up with a Spielbergian finale that fits surprisingly well into the madness. The dramatic action climax of "Ted" may not make the famed director proud, but it would probably make him laugh.
After being stuck in "Family Guy" land for too many years, "Ted" is in many ways a coming out party for Seth MacFarlane, and his writing seems energized by getting a chance to escape from the tired setting of Quahog. Even if he uses some of the same formula from "Family Guy," he shows a natural feel for live action comedy, helped along by two well-placed actors and a good screenplay that avoids many of the potential pitfalls. MacFarlane may have too much love for fart jokes and slapstick, but "Ted" is still a rewarding comedy that gives us some quotable dialog and saves many of the biggest - and best - laughs for last.
by RTT Staff Writer
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