A funny, absurd feature debut by Family Guy mastermind Seth Macfarlane, this live-action comedy depicts the bromance between a 35 year-old man and his living, talking teddy bear. We see the genesis of their friendship, when preteen John wishes his stuffed pal to life so that, after years of abuse from the local children, he’ll always have a stable, loving companion to hang out with. Lo and behold, the little guy comes alive, and is received by the kind of adoration/horror one would expect to feel when witnessing a stuffed animal walking around making conversation in a cutesy voice. Cut to years later, when John is a grown man, and Ted is now on the other side of his 15 minutes of fame, nihilistic, rowdy, and completely self-destructive, with John as his wingman. John’s relationship with his girlfriend is getting more serious, and she sees his daily pot-smoking dalliances with Ted as a huge impediment in taking his life more seriously. Will John finally be able to toss aside the crutch he’s created to keep him from being lonely now that he has a legit real-world companion? Also, what the hell is that deal with that stalker-ish guy who keeps following Ted and John around? Wonder if he’ll show up in the third act…
Surprisingly enough, considering the randomness of Family Guy, the central story arc actually has some weight. Beyond the adorable relationship between John and Ted (who, it should be noted, is completely CGI), the notion of this man having to eschew the comforts of his childhood in order to progress his adult relationship forward is fairly universal and is rendered in a fresh, hilarious way. However, on a scene by scene basis, Macfarlane (who wrote, directed, and starred as Ted) falls into the same trap Family Guy typically falls in, which is wantonly sacrificing any consistency in character or tone for the sake of a gag. While this sort of deflates any sort of emotional momentum the film might get going, it allows for him to permeate the film with the kind of reference-heavy randomness that defines his TV shows, with a heavy presence given to the 1980 Flash Gordon, in particular. Ted himself is, inevitably, the funniest part of the film, with his id-driven, pot-obsessed behavior making him a sort of ultimate Bluto Blutarsky, a slob-with-a-vengeance that, luckily, has absolutely no worries about liver poisoning or the shakes. Of course, it’s the love story that kind of falls flat, because what fun is it seeing the pretty people in their near-perfect romance when there’s a freaking talking teddy bear who does shit like miming a menage a trois with two guys as a flirting technique? Still, the emphasis remains on the comedy like 4/5ths of the time, so the laughs make up for the lulls in the narrative, but a little more legwork in the script department may have sustained this as a more memorable, timeless film than the mere yuk-fest that it is.
Mark Wahlberg was not very funny in The Other Guys, and I was very skeptical of him taking the lead for this project, but thankfully, he seems more in tune with these proceedings than he did with Will Ferrell. He is ostensibly the straight man to Ted, but his John is still plagued by juvenile tendencies, a constantly weed-addled mind, and a residual obsession with all things Flash Gordon, and Wahlberg gives the geeky character enough nuance for the converted and leading-man charm for the average moviegoers. Mila Kunis is strapped with a thin, cliched character with little to no comic moments of her own (save for a great, bewildered reading of “Is that a shit???”), and she is clearly cast here more due to her relationship with Macfarlane than for any sort of appropriate sync with her written character; she has to stop with roles like this and Friends with Benefits before everyone forgets that she was actually good in Black Swan. Joel McHale plays a douchey Joel McHale-type as Kunis’s boss who is angling to get in her pants, and he is seems to be trying to meet Macfarlane halfway in his over-the-top WASPiness (think Lois’s dad on Family Guy), but his hamminess is too strong for this particular flick. Also, his effectiveness as a villain is kinda extinguished by the presence of a wonderfully freaky and awkward Giovanni Ribisi as a near-psychotic stalker whose sights are set on snatching Ted away for his own kid. But the film is held down by Macfarlane’s own voice work as Ted, using his vocal talents to give Ted the irreverent hedonism of Peter Griffin (who he amusingly namechecks) mixed with the die-hard loyalty of his dog Brian to create a truly endearing character. Much like the similar-minded (and titled) Paul, the success of this film rests on its CGI creation’s shoulders, and Ted himself is more than up to the challenge, with a plethora of quotable lines and more than one touching moment cementing his place as the defining element of this funny-ass movie.
Recommended to fans of Family Guy, Mark Wahlberg, or of adult takes on kid iconography a la Bad Santa. Like The Dictator, this is definitely a film that works better as a collection of funny beats and gags than as an actual movie with a plot and any sort of tonal consistency, but like that film, the movie is funny enough (at least once) to be totally worth it.