The merrily rude humor of Family Guy slides right into feature films with nary a burp nor a fart in Ted, a raucously funny goof about a boozing, pot-smoking, foul-mouthed teddy bear who would be instant new best friends with The Hangover guys. Not too many films serve up laughs that just keep on rolling with regularity from beginning to end, but Seth MacFarlane's directorial debut does so and without any feeling of strain. There's admittedly something a bit weird about the premise that might keep away some viewers who would otherwise belly up for a good gross comedy, but the comedy quotient is more than high enough to prompt upbeat word-of-mouth and solid summer business.
MacFarlane's wise-ass, ecumenically offensive joke-making is recognizable from the first scene, in which a bunch of suburban Christian kids celebrate Christmas by beating up the neighborhood Jewish kid, who in the middle of things warns the unpopular kid not to help him out. Poor little John Bennett has no friends at all until his parents offer him his dreamed-of present: a stuffed bear who fulfills the boy's wish of coming alive.
Naturally, this one-of-a-kind walking and talking creature becomes a national celebrity in 1985 and a wonderful Zelig-like scene has Ted, a totally credible CGI creation voiced in a thick Boston accent by MacFarlane, appearing with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. But even a talking bear becomes old hat after a while and, a quarter-century later, Ted suffers the fate of many other child stars, indulging in major substance abuse while living in the past and mooching off others.
Ted's main enabler is his lifelong “thunder buddy” John (Mark Wahlberg), who, at 35, still spends way too much time getting wasted with his fuzzy friend, whose coat, truth be told, is beginning to wear as thin as his act in spots. John's dreamy girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) is more tolerant of the best friend than John deserves, but their fourth anniversary of togetherness cues certain expectations in her that John is not yet ready to offer.
Like Family Guy, the film serves up cutaway digressions that are hilarious partly for being so unexpected; a flashback to John's first meeting Lori is cast in the form of homage to the Saturday Night Fever disco dance lampoon in Airplane! The fact that some of the jokes sound as if they really belong in the mouth of cartoon characters might have something to do with the fact that Ted was originally conceived as an animated series, but the script by MacFarlane and longtime Family Guy writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild acknowledges and adheres to traditional structural rules concerning emotional expectations and payoffs; it might even take one step too many in that direction at the close.
The film finds its true nostalgic self in the '80s, or least in a wildly unanticipated mining of its drugged-out ethos personified by Sam Jones, the long-forgotten star of the much-maligned 1980 film Flash Gordon. Just when John has finally chosen Lori over Ted and forced the bear to find his own apartment, Ted calls to insist that John join him at a bash with their all-time favorite actor, the self-same Jones. The latter parties like it's 1980, all right, starting by downing shots and moving on quickly to mounds of coke in a wildly frenetic and pretty outrageous sequence topped by an irate Asian neighbor's duck pecking the crap out of the obscene Ted. Jones, who remains in excellent shape as he approaches 60, is very game and should get a nice little career boost by virtue of his genially gonzo turn.
Singer Norah Jones also contributes a nifty cameo as herself, freely admitting that she had a thing with Ted some years back and that he was pretty good for a guy without the usual equipment. An uncredited appearance, and one so sexually unexpected as to provoke a double and even triple take to make sure it's who you think it is, is put in by Ryan Reynolds.
MacFarlane has a great knack for getting all his performers to be loose and self-deprecating. The banter between John and Ted has a natural working-class, shooting-the-breeze style just like the men in Family Guy, while the relationship between John and Lori feels genuine and strong enough to make you root for it to work out, with Wahlberg relaxed and very appealing as a guy who's postponed growing up as long as he can and Kunis absolutely adorable as his loyal and patient squeeze. Giovanni Ribisi and Aedin Mincks play a creepy father and son who plot to kidnap the stuffed former kid celebrity, while Jessica Barth goes the extra mile with limited lines to grab laughs as a vulgar tart who's game for a wild fling with Ted.
As did Ben Affleck's Beantown-set The Town, Ted sets its unlikely action climax at Fenway Park.
Opens: Friday, June 29 (Universal)
Production: Fuzzy Door, Blue Grass Films, Media Rights Capital
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Warburton, Matt Walsh, Jessica Barth, Aedin Mincks, Bill Smitrovich, Patrick Stewart, Norah Jones, Sam Jones, Tom Skerritt
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Screenwriters: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Story by: Seth MacFarlane
Producers: Scott Stuber, Seth MacFarlane, John Jacobs, Jason Clark
Executive producer: Jonathan Mone
Director of photography: Michael Barrett
Production designer: Stephen Lineweaver
Costume Designer: Debra McGuire
Editor: Jeff Freeman
Music: Walter Murphy
Rated R, 105 minutes.
- Seth MacFarlane
- Mark Wahlberg