Ted (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Universal) Running Time: 106 minutes approx.
Eight year-old John Bennett is a very unpopular boy with no friends until he receives a teddy bear for Christmas. That night John makes a wish that he and Ted (as he named him – will be lifelong friends. The next morning John awakens to find Ted has magically come alive and goes on to have his fifteen minutes of fame as a result.
Fast forward to today and John (Mark Wahlberg) is 35 years old and true to his promise, Ted is still by his side, now a foulmouthed, drug taking former star. However, John now has a girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis) who wants John to grow up and for Ted to move out.
With thirteen years of subversive animated irreverence on television under his belt with Family Guy, American Dad and the Cleveland Show, Seth McFarlane makes his long awaited leap from the small screen to the big screen with this equally subversive and irreverent outing. What is immediately noticeable about Ted is how McFarlane has embraced the freedoms cinema brings over the censorial restrictions of TV – the overuse of the “f” word and other unsavoury profanities and the unbridled drug and sexual references at the forefront of this wave of defiance. But does it make for a good film?
Where as Family Guy et al are an exercise in creativity and often surreal exploration crammed full of nodding winks, satirical gags and oblique or tongue in cheek pop culture references, the story of Ted – crazy premise aside – is ironically conventional and non-challenging fare with very few signs of showing any ambition to be original beyond the living teddy bear.
John is a going nowhere manchild who (like McFarlane) still indulges in his 80’s childhood with Ted, which serves as the foundation for a running gag featuring the star of the 1980 film version of Flash Gordon Sam Jones who plays himself in an amusing self-mocking cameo. Lori on the other hand is the responsible and successful one of the relationship, in a good job and clearly the bread winner.
Lori has the eye of her spoiled brat boss Rex (Joel McHale) who tries every trick in the book to get Lori onside, failing at every turn. But when John fails to propose at a four year anniversary dinner with Lori, and a prostitute commits a very unsanitary act of her floor during a game of truth or dare with Ted, the ultimatum is laid down: Ted has to move out or else.
This leads to a respite in the bad behaviour until Ted’s new white trash lover Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) insults Lori then Ted entices John away from an important bash held by Rex to party with Sam Jones, both john and Ted are persona non grata in Lori’s eyes and Rex is suddenly in with a chance. Meanwhile Ted is being stalked by weirdo father Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) who wants to buy Ted for his son.
Aside from the barrage of profanity and the occasionally tawdry sex related sight gag, McFarlane’s trademark humour is rather diluted and homogenised here compared to the risks he takes with his more regulated TV shows. Perhaps that is the key to his work – he needs to be trying to circumvent the restrictions to inspire him and less resistance means nothing to challenge so no creativity is needed.
Therefore what we have is a film that simply rides alongside the slew of shamelessly vulgar and classless “comedies” Hollywood has spewed out to great acclaim over the past few years, such as Bridesmaids and The Hangover, rather than something fresh and exciting to raise the bar. As talented as McFarlane is, this film suggests that the success of his TV shows might be more down to the team of forty plus writers on board than just himself.
Despite my overall disappointment with this film, there were some amusing moments (something the other films I mentioned didn’t have) and as child of the 80’s I could certainly appreciate many of the pop culture references from my youth. The fact the cast play the whole thing straight and they all treat Ted as a human is a nice touch and makes a lot of the humour work while some of the sexual stuff seems just a tad creepy. Giovanni Ribisi is the only one who gets to play a truly comic character and provides some of the more uncomfortably funnier moments (the Tiffany video scene comes to mind).
Sam Jones, it has to be said, sends himself up wonderfully and this cameo will probably open some new “cult hero” doors for him as Family Guy did for Adam West. Arguably the greatest praise this film deserves is with Ted himself, or rather the CGI rendering of him. Hats off to the animators and special effects crew here as Ted looks 100% genuine with none of the usual telltale signs of artifice whatsoever; in fact one could be forgiven that it was a small child in a suit, it is THAT convincing.
As a fan of Family Guy and American Dad I will confess to having high hopes for Ted but I will admit I went into this almost expecting it to be nothing like McFarlane’s TV shows. Perhaps it might have been better if this was like his TV work as, while not a complete waste of time, Ted just didn’t work for me, suggesting McFarlane’s forte is in the twenty five minute “battle against the censors” format and not the feature length free reign world of the cinema.
The Making Of: A Guy, A Girl And A Teddy Bear; Doing It Live; A MacFarlane Set
Teddy Bear Scuffle
Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Seth MacFarlane, Co-Writer Alec Sulkin and Star Mark Wahlberg
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black