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Wed, 04 Jul 2012
By Matt Patches
Boldly proclaimed on the posters for Ted is a divisive phrase: "The first motion picture from the creator of Family Guy." Seth MacFarlane's kooky, profane, animated TV show has its diehard fans and vocal dissenters, but the the writer's leap to the big screen is an impressive stretch that should suit both groups (or, perhaps, neither). The tale of a boy and his sentient stuffed bear, Ted takes the classic mold of a '50s comedy and stuffs it full of MacFarlane's signature foul-mouthed humor. The result is sweet, sick and satisfyingly simple. For a movie about a talking toy with a drug, alcohol and sex problem, Ted is surprisingly low concept.
Avoiding the over-explanatory storytelling pitfalls of most deranged comedies, Ted cuts to the chase. When John (Mark Wahlberg) was a kid, he wished for his teddy bear to come to life. Unexpectedly, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) did come to life, dedicating himself to becoming John's best buddy forever. ALTIntegrating into the real world with the utmost ease (albeit finding momentary fame for being "that toy that came to life"), Ted and John's friendship seldom hits a bump, even when the human half of the pair finds love with Lori (Mila Kunis). The biggest hurdle comes four years into couple's relationship: Lori feels the urge to settle down; John is waiting to move up the ranks of his dead end rental car job; Ted just wants to smoke pot and watch more Cheers DVD commentaries with John. Real life problems.
Ted is an exceedingly pleasant viewing experience, throwing curveballs to the central duo without losing any of the friendship and encouragement that makes both of them so lovable. It's hard to make a "nice" movie that liberally drops cuss-filled, borderline-racist, and perversely sexual one-liners like a twelve-year-old who just discovered his first George Carlin album, but Ted manages it with MacFarlane's sharp ear for dialogue and well-constructed script. The film uses a few of Family Guy's cutaway techniques and more Star Wars references than any film since...Star Wars, but it's all employed effectively to best tell the story of life long friends. Ted and John's love for the 1980 Flash Gordon movie is a clear demonstration of their fondness for childhood yesteryears — a memory that becomes the pair's major conflict.
Riding the whacked out success of The Other Guys, Wahlberg continues his streak of great comedic performances, nailing the everyman without letting John slip into obvious manchild territory (and doing it all with the perfect Bostonian slant). While not as dapper or madcap, Wahlberg and the CG-animated Ted have a bit of Lemmon/Matthau rapport. They joke, they butt heads, they live life through each other's commentaries. It's great fun and wouldn't work without MacFarlane's natural performance and the digital effects to accompany it. The moment when Ted and John's bubbling tension finally brews over may be one of the best "fight" scenes of the year. The sight gags and potty humor won't be everyone's cup of tea, but underneath it all is great chemistry that slathers the movie with charm.
A film that could have easily skewed to the Family Guy teen demographic defies expectations thanks to MacFarlane's old school sensibilities. Kunis modernizes the leading lady role with equal doses of spunk and romantic ambition. Surrounding the main trio are a handful of great comedic actors and famous cameos — another Family Guy-ism that feels oh so right in the movie's twisted alternate reality — with Joel McHale hitting new levels of creepiness as Lori's sexually harassing boss. MacFarlane keeps the direction as straightforward as the plotting, jazzing it up with a rousing score by Family Guy composer Walter Murphy. Ted's script feels less confident summing the movie up in big summer style, sagging when conflict takes priority (an absolutely bonkers Giovanni Ribisi shows up to add some wicked behavior in the second half of the film), but the whole package is a fun romp that delivers on laughs. Ted is stuffed with smiles and booze; see, sometimes wishes do come true.
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