REVIEW: Ted. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane. Directed by Seth MacFarlane. R13. State Cinema.
You either like Family Guy or you don't. Sometimes, its cutting satire is brilliant, going further than The Simpsons would ever dare to; but sometimes, it's gross, tasteless and cruel. And that just about sums up Ted, the big-screen directorial debut of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.
It's a modern-day fairytale for adults, but mainly those who enjoy MacFarlane's fiercely non-PC brand of humour.
In 1985, lonely eight-year-old John Bennett gets a teddy bear for Christmas. He wishes it would come to life and be his best friend - and lo and behold, a falling star makes this happen.
Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) isn't a modern equivalent of Harvey the rabbit, though. Everyone can see and hear him walking and talking, and once they get over the initial shock, the sentient soft toy enjoys a brief spell as a celebrity.
Fast forward to the present day, and John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted are still best friends, but have become manchildren who like to drink beer, get stoned and watch old movies and TV shows together.
John, an underachieving rental car clerk, wants to get serious about marrying his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis), but she thinks that hanging out with the lazy, hedonistic Ted is preventing John from achieving his full potential in life.
The humour in Ted rests on the old trope of something cute and sweet acting against type, like little kids swearing, and it's the familiar MacFarlane recipe - cynicism and frat-boy grossness, with plenty of jokes about sex acts and bodily functions, a bit of casual sexism and racism, and poking fun at celebrities.
As expected, MacFarlane also indulges his Gen-X pop culture obsession, with endless references to 80's movies, TV shows and music (though the cutaway gags are kept to a minimum), and a cameo by a washed-up star of yesteryear.
As a talking non-human character, Ted's Family Guy counterpart is Brian the dog, but Peter Griffin is a better comparison. Ted is basically Peter in plush fabric, with fewer inhibitions - they behave the same and, if you close your eyes, they sound the same (something acknowledged in passing, in the MacFarlane tradition of trying to turn a shortcoming into a virtue).
Wahlberg and Kunis are good, though Wahlberg's impressive physique makes it a bit hard to accept him as a bong-loving couch potato, while Norah Jones has a thankless cameo as one of Ted's old lovers.
Yes, it's the old “my best mate's girlfriend is breaking up our bromance” story, and it rehashes the ingredients that have made Family Guy a success, but if you can handle the grosser bits, Ted is an enjoyable story about the importance of friendship. Ted behaves obnoxiously, but he isn't an amoral sleazebag bent on driving John and Lori apart. On the contrary - he understands and accepts that John has to grow up, and likes Lori, who's sweet and successful. He's a good friend, even if he does refuse to grow up.
Despite having two hours and an R rating to play with, MacFarlane shows commendable restraint - Ted is no more offensive than an average episode of Family Guy.
By leavening the naughty bear's hedonism with a decent dose of heart, MacFarlane makes him a likeable character and avoids some of the more predictable story twists.
But how much longer can he keep getting laughs with talking animals, stuffed or otherwise?
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