"Ted" Best Potty-Mouthed Talking Teddy Bear Movie You'll Ever See But Doesn't Fully Take Off
Probably the best potty-mouthed, pot-smoking talking teddy bear movie you’ll ever see, “Ted” is as crass, filthy, and wrong as a live-action, uncensored “Family Guy” episode. It makes sense because Seth MacFarlane, the popular animated sitcom’s creator, makes his feature writing and directing debut here, and he sure gets away with a lot. Co-writer MacFarlane and a few of his “Family Guy” writers (Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild) take a one-joke premise that could be stretched as far as a stuffed teddy’s fur and wring it for all it’s worth, with pop-culture references and slap-downs, anti-PC one-liners, and lots of bad bear behavior, until nothing is sacred. Even if “Ted” might’ve worked better as one of those 9-minute fake movie trailers on Jimmy Kimmel Live than a 106-minute movie, it scores laughs 80% of the time, and that’s not a bad success rate.
In the 1985 prologue, a deadpan Patrick Stewart’s heartwarming narration begins “Ted” as one of those treacly Christmas family movies, until a Jewish joke and four-letter words whip it into shape. Young John Bennett is the loner of the Boston neighborhood, but after he receives a teddy bear for Christmas and makes a wish on a falling star that Ted would spring to life and talk, his new BFF does just that. Twenty-seven years later, after the miracle of a talking stuffed bear has earned him fame on Johnny Carson and acceptance in the world, the hedonistic Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) and 35-year-old rental-car company worker John (grown into Mark Wahlberg) are still best buds, bumming around on the couch, taking bong hits and watching “Flash Gordon.” But Ted resides with John and his 4-year-long girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), a living situation that becomes a problem when Lori feels they can’t move on with their life. Done playing “three’s company,” Ted moves out and gets a job, but John can’t just let go of his Thunder Buddy, even if he’s a bad influence.
With their Boston accents, Wahlberg and MacFarlane bounce off each other perfectly. The Beantown native with a tough exterior gets to play a lovable lunk. His tone-teaf vocal performance of the “Octopussy” theme song makes him a really good sport, and his rapid-fire moment of rattling off female names to Ted is a must-see. MacFarlane makes sure his plush-toy counterpart registers as a genuine character; it helps that Ted is seamlessly integrated into the action, interacting with the human actors. Kunis, who could’ve been stuck in a second-banana role as “the girl,” is actually pretty cool, Philly-tough, and understanding as Lori. She might nag John a bit in wanting a proposal and getting him to give up childish things, but clearly she’s put up with enough already.
Unlike most talking toy/animal movies rooted in magical realism, “Ted” is inspired for embracing its own silliness. Ted has his fifteen minutes of fame, and now everybody is pretty nonchalant about a talking teddy bear existing among them. He drives, he drinks and smokes weed called “mind rape,” he parties with prostitutes, he screws, he finds employment at a grocery store, and he screws at that grocery storeâ€¦on a bag of produce. Much of the plot deals with John struggling to choose between his bromance and his romance. In a way, it isn’t that different from Jason Segel facing the same predicament between Muppet brother Walter and human girlfriend Amy Adams in 2011’s “The Muppets.” Lori’s smug, leering boss (Joel McHale) poses an obstacle, and there’s also a strange, creepy subplot percolating through all of this, involving an always-daringly weird Giovanni Ribisi as a sociopath bribing John to take Ted for his chubby son. Both tangents add more conflict, but mostly padding, that the film didn’t really need.
But “Ted” is most fun (and funny) when Ted gets down with his bad self. This calls for MacFarlane to throw around a slew of scattershot jokes of the scatalogical and derogatory variety to see what sticks. The fart jokes fall flat, but Kunis cleaning up hooker droppings surprisingly doesn’t. A Chinese stereotype is more embarrassing than funny. Sour targets at diseases and 9/11 are iffy. To more success, the name-dropping roasts from Ted’s mouth run the gamut from Katy Perry to Susan Boyle to Adam Sandler (take that “Jack and Jill”!). Even MacFarlane’s own Peter Griffin winkingly gets dropped. MacFarlane and his co-scribes show off their fandom of film, too. There’s an Indiana Jones in-joke, and a flashback to the night John and Lori met is an exact replica of the “Saturday Night Fever” parody in 1980’s great spoof “Airplane!” The writers must also have a jones for Tom Skerritt and ’80s star Sam J. Jones because both are the subjects of running jokes. Other good-sport cameos abound: another Jones, the ’90s singer-songwriter kind, headlines a concert and there’s the giggling surprise of two male actors having the rare pleasure to carry on a same-sex relationship. Luckily, most of this stuff hits.
When the bearnapping horror-movie subplot takes over, the material starts to fray a bit. Still, and mind you we’re still talking about the raunchy R-rated comedy about a man and his talking teddy bear, the film welcomes sweet sentiment, and it’s never mocking or calculated but unexpectedly and genuinely earned. For that, “Ted” is easy to warm up to, despite it not fully taking off as a great movie comedy. Then again, it can be very funny and cuddly like a bear hug. And remember, despite “Ted” being about a Fuzzy Wuzzy Bear, this is no Winnie the Pooh.
106 min., rated R.
Grade: B –