Ted is high comedy…literally.
When Seth MacFarlane decides to throw his hat into the cinematic ring one can’t help but be intrigued. Say what you will about the comedy styling of Family Guy; the man has a unique sensibility. His feature film debut Ted shares his uniquely bizarre vision. It’s as if he took ‘high concept’ literally, complete with as many bong-rips as possible.
John Bennett is an unpopular child. He’s not bullied, just sullen after being neglected by his peers.
On a special Christmas morning he receives a large, plush teddy bear. Before bed he earnestly wishes his bear be real and they could be BFF’s. In the morning he awakes to a sentient stuffed animal named Ted.
Ted achieves overnight celebrity. His days are spent traipsing around Hollywood, making appearances on magazine covers and ‘The Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson. He even has time to terrify secular Christian groups. But with instant fame comes the inevitable downfall. After years of enjoying the good life we flash forward to present day. Ted lives in the shadow of his fame with best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) and John’s steady girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis.) After years of turmoil, the pair is still inseparable which is a thorn in the side of Lori who has to deal with their antics on a daily basis.
When you get past the concept the plot is standard fare, often teetering on sappy rom-com generalities. What keeps Ted fresh is the script (penned by MacFarlane.) He’s always had a knack for exploiting stereotypes on television and continues that trend here. They range from basic (the dumb, racist Bostonian) to refreshing (Patrick Stewart as an increasingly crass narrator.) Not all MacFarlane’s jokes land however as evidence by an Asian-stereotype so outlandish I heard audible gasps in the theater.
The pace is quick which helps keep the flat jokes in check. If one doesn’t land, you can be sure there are many more around the corner. This allows for the actors to play fast-and-loose. Mark Wahlberg has a blast as Ted’s best friend. I often find Wahlberg a bit too self-serious but here he let’s his Boston roots shine. The dialogue between he and Ted as they smoke weed and watch Sponge Bob are classic. Mila Kunis is fun as well, although she is mostly relegated to a romantic trope.
The list of cameos MacFarlane produced rounds out an impressive cast. Patrick Warburton as Wahlberg’s co-worker is in full Puddy mode. Matt Walsh as John’s boss Thomas has an unhealthy obsession with Tom Skerrit while Giovanni Ribisi – as a crazy stalker – has an unhealthy obsession with Ted. I won’t give away any more surprises but if you’re a fan of Flash Gordon you won’t be disappointed.
If this were a G-rated film it would star Vin Diesel and be produced by Disney but here MacFarlane has other motives. His rapid-fire Family Guy-esque one-liners are on full display. The first half-hour of Ted is so sharp and hysterical I expected to need a ventilator by the credits. Sadly, that momentum isn’t sustained as the narrative is dragged into rom-com territory in the final third. Ted doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it is a healthy dose of raunchy, idiosyncratic comedy that’s sorely needed in the slog of the summer movie season.