Potential sapped by old gags
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Seth MacFarlane is not one to cast aside his childish things.
The one-man animation industry behind Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show has built a career around bawdy humour and haphazard pop-culture references. So it's fitting that his first foray into live-action cinema, Ted, is about the relationship between a 35-year-old under-achiever and his pot-smoking teddy bear.
As Ted's saccharine yet expletive-laden prologue explains, on Christmas Day, 1985, John a young, friendless boy, wished upon a star that his teddy bear was real. Fast-forward 26 years, and John (Mark Wahlberg) is wasting his life at a car-rental firm, while Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) is a former child celebrity gone to seed.
Even more inexplicably, John has a steady relationship with the drop-dead beautiful Mila Kunis. Wahlberg's doe-eyed sincerity is a perfect fit, while Kunis is also surprisingly game considering her role is so underwritten.
However, Ted is the most fully rounded character here. Simply put, MacFarlane knows he can get away with saying and doing things as a teddy bear that you simply couldn't as a human. Yet if you scratch the surface, there's something oddly sweet about the picture. You have to scratch pretty hard, mind.
True, John and Ted's relationship fits right into the recent trend of Judd Apatow-produced "bromance" comedies: the film is most relaxed when the pair are sitting on the couch riffing on nothing in particular.
But it's also down to the fact that teddy bears are intrinsically cute. MacFarlane knows putting him in peril will tug at the audience's heart-strings: a subplot built around Ted's capture by a creepy stalker (a jaw-droppingly weird Giovanni Ribisi) is directed with surprising verve. Yet MacFarlane never seems sure how far he wants to take Ted.
There are the usual romantic comedy obstacles, including a rival for Kunis' affections (fittingly sleazy Joel McHale), and, on the other hand, the guy who played Flash Gordon in a small but integral cameo ... as Flash Gordon. Sort of.
Ted might be the year's most racy comedy, but until MacFarlane removes that security blanket of old gags, his work will be stuck in arrested development.
Very funny, but also oddly frustrating.
The Timaru Herald