REVIEW: If you're a fan of Family Guy, then knowing that Seth McFarlane has written and directed a film is probably all the review you'll ever need. Family Guy is uneven, but when it's on song, it can be hands down the funniest cartoon show ever made. A great Simpsons episode can make you breathless at its twists, turns and story telling nous. But a great Family Guy will leave you slack-jawed with admiration at the audacity of it. South Park will do pretty much anything to shock, but Family Guy wraps its big moments up in solid story-telling, and surprisingly well-rounded characterisations. The Simpsons might have shown the world there was more to cartoons than The Flintstones and Disney, but I reckon it's Family Guy that sets the standard now.
Or you could disagree completely, and think that Family Guy is a puerile, potty-mouthed waste of time with not much more going for it than a decent line in fart jokes. In which case Ted probably isn't the film for you.
Ted is a teddy bear. He was given to young John Bennett for Christmas when Bennett was nine years old. Bennett made a wish, as nine year olds are wont to do, a passing star happened to fall from the sky at just the right moment, and Ted came to life. Fast forward 26 years, and wee John has grown up to be Mark Wahlberg.
He works as an office schlub at a rental car company, spends his free time stoned on the couch watching Flash Gordon, and is improbably in a four year relationship with smart, successful, and drop dead beautiful Mila Kunis. And right there with them is Ted, a bit battered and in serious need of a dry-clean, but still a walking, talking, and very much alive teddy-bear. (When I saw the shorts for Ted, I thought maybe it was a film about a man living with the delusion that his teddy bear is alive. But nope, McFarlane plays it absolutely straight. Ted isn't the 21st century Harvey.)
Ted, like John, has aged. He's lived the life of a child celebrity, met all the stars, and partied harder than any fluffy toy before or since, but now he's a jaded, hard drinking, more or less permanently stoned figure, fast approaching middle age, and in need of a job. John and Ted are, of course, still best buddies, and so Ted throws away all sorts of potentially intriguing scenarios, and happily settles into that staple of Western film making; the movie about the guy who needs to grow up if he's going to keep the girl.
It's as though McFarlane has found his high concept, but doesn't know what to do with it. Like Brian the dog in Family Guy, Ted is actually a completely human character. He's the annoying room mate who holds our hero back, but who still teaches him the meaning of loyalty. Think Nick Frost in Sean of the Dead, that's Ted.
There are sub-plots, of course, the best of which features Giovanni Ribisi as a sublimely creepy stalker. Ribisi dancing to Tiffany's I think We're Alone Now is a stunningly funny moment in a movie that had me laughing out loud several times, but the gag only works because Ribisi plays it so disturbingly unhinged.
Ted succeeds because it is stuffed full of gags, pop culture references, brilliant cameos Norah Jones can swear! Who knew? and decent lines, all delivered by a great cast. Wahlberg might be badly physically miscast the guy has muscles in places where most of us don't even have places. Is anyone really buying him being beaten up by a soft toy? but he's smart enough to play the material straight, and let the script transcend its central gimmick.
TED (106 min) (R13)
Directed by Seth McFarlane.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth McFarlane.
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