(This review was originally published on June 29, 2012 at Reel Film News.)
When we were children, we all dreamed and wished that one day, our stuffed animals or dolls would be able to talk and actually interact with us. More often than not, we would say, “Oh, ____ (insert object of childhood desire here), I wish you were real.” And, of course, it never happened. With Ted, writer/director/voice actor Seth MacFarlane takes it to the next level, using his usual overblown, sight gag-filled comedic style that he has honed on his television show, “Family Guy”. And much like “Family Guy”, some of it will make you laugh until it hurts; other parts will make you stare at the screen blankly, wondering where the funny is.
MacFarlane definitely knows how to skewer pop culture with the mightiest of swords, and Ted is an almost-constant display of this talent. From recalling our attentions to 1980’s Flash Gordon and its star, Sam J. Jones to a barbed Taylor Lautner jab, Ted is rife with pokes at the movie industry, not even sparing “Family Guy”. Much of it comes from the titular character, Ted (MacFarlane), a formerly stuffed animal brought to life by a Christmas wish made by lonely child John Bennett (played as an adult by Mark Wahlberg). At first, while both John and Ted are adolescents, all is perfect in their world, as each is the other’s inseparable best friend… but what happens when they grow up and John finds the love of his life, Lori (Mila Kunis)?
When we all saw the red band trailer, people seemed to be divided into two factions: those who loved it, and those who said “Oh, dear God, what?” I fell into the former category, as I enjoy vulgarity writ large (having been suspended from grade school a few times for obscene utterances), and I also happen to think that MacFarlane has an undeniable gift for comedy. If you’ve ever seen his Harvard Class Day speech, where he rotates between delivering his speech as himself and his “Family Guy” voices, you’ll know that he has the propensity for being hilarious. It’s quite obvious in Ted where he has applied his writing talents; at the same time, I can’t help but feel like the movie is one long “Family Guy” episode, complete with out-there absurdity, the cutaway gags that reference other movies or past events in the main characters’ lives, and overdramatic action that tends to remind one of his epic Peter vs. Chicken fights.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m a big Mark Wahlberg fan. As an actor with a very surprising range formerly known for being somewhat of a joke of a rapper, he has impressed me from Renaissance Man onward. From playing the hard-as-nails Detective Dignam in The Departed to a less-vulgar parody of that same character in The Other Guys, he’s always someone I enjoy watching onscreen. Ted is no different; he plays John Bennett perfectly, combining a working-class everyman’s goofiness with the innocence of a boy who’s not at all grown up. He plays a perfect comic co-foil to the computer-animated Ted, voiced impeccably by MacFarlane; at times, you definitely hear a strong resemblance to his Peter Griffin voice, but it’s not that much of a problem. The interactions between the both of them are the fun-filled meat and potatoes of this movie, with every conversation and interaction (whether friendly or antagonistic) being enjoyable.
The problem that I have with Ted is this: it’s a movie that turns serious and has zero laughs for twenty or thirty straight minutes after having been outrageously hilarious for the preceding fifty minutes. As real life sets in for John (the way it does for all of us) and he has to choose between maturing and staying in a state of arrested development, the movie just gets boring. There are signs of the writers desperately trying to inject life and laughs into the dead part of the movie, but those efforts are rather ill-timed and placed oddly. I know that I keep comparing this movie to “Family Guy”, as that’s been MacFarlane’s milieu for the last many years, and I don’t think he’s quite grown out of it yet. Both Ted and “Family Guy” share this in common: when it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s hilarious and gut-bustingly funny, but every now and again, there’s a slight misfire and things just come shuddering to a halt. It’s not enough to completely derail your good time, but it’ll throw a flagpole into the spokes to slow it down a bit.