Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Ted" (2012)

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane and Mila Kunis
Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Rated R - Language, sex, drug use, violence
Running Time: 106 Minutes

John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) was a boy who had no friends. One night, he made a wish that his teddy bear, Ted, could come to life and be his real friend forever. Just his luck, that's exactly what happens.  Ted and John grow up together as best friends, Ted becoming something of a minor celebrity for a few years.  But as they grow into adulthood, John's life starts to pick up when he meets Lori Collins (Mila Kunis). Unfortunately, Ted's life begins to stagnate, and he pulls John down with him.

Now in his mid-30s, John has a middling job at a car rental agency and Ted spends his days hanging around getting high. Lori is frustrated that John can't seem to move on from his childhood hangups, including being afraid of thunderstorms, without Ted.  Meanwhile, a skeevy former fan of Ted's, Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) and his creepy son Robert (Aedin Mincks) keep showing up trying to buy Ted.

Ted, meanwhile, tries to figure out what to do with his life so that John and Lori can be happy. But Ted's raunchy antics and party-animal nature continue to drag John down, eventually leading to Lori and John's breakup. Now Ted realizes the error of his ways and must figure out how to get John and Lori back together forever.

"Ted" is the live-action, feature-film debut of Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy" and its offshoots "The Cleveland Show" and "American Dad." As such, it shares a lot of stylistic characteristics of those shows, including humorous cutaways and 80s references.  I'm not much of a fan of those shows. They tend to eschew real jokes in favor of nostalgic recreations of old TV shows and movies. Thankfully, "Ted" manages to avoid that problem by using the references more naturally.

The Ted character mines a lot of comedy out of the simple premise of being a foul-mouthed teddy bear. While the script is good enough that much of it would be funny if he were human, the fact that he's a pot-smoking, beer-swilling stuffed animal makes it all work. Voiced by MacFarlane, he's pretty much just a stuffed version of Peter Griffin who swears (the film even jokes about this). He's the free character who gets to do all kinds of wild stuff, like have sex with the hot chick at work, tell off his boss to get a promotion, and party with hookers, all of which leads him to say just about the most shocking and ridiculous things the writers can imagine coming out of his mouth.

Likewise, Mark Wahlberg again proves himself adept at comedy. A scene in which he rattles off a series of "white trash names" trying to guess Ted's girlfriend is a hoot. Wahlberg has remarkable chemistry with a CGI teddy bear, intriguingly more so than he does with Mila Kunis. Kunis does a fine job as usual, but her relationship with Wahlberg's character never feels as easy or natural as John's friendship with Ted does.

The script is at its best when it just lets John and Ted get into wacky situations and riff on each other. But the opposite end of that is that when the movie decides it finally needs to get around to having a plot, things aren't quite as rosy. The subplot involving Giovanni Ribisi's character isn't all that interesting, and while it provides the film its briefly action-packed climax involving a car chase and a fight at Fenway Park, it mostly ends up feeling out of place.

The special effects used to bring Ted to life are pretty impressive. He's a detailed creation, and there's also some impressive lighting. Note the scenes with John and Ted in bright daylight sitting on their couch, how the CG artists have matched the blown out highlights on Ted's fur.

"Ted" is an impressive, funny feature film debut for Seth MacFarlane.  The cast is great, livening up a script full of absurd excess. I was worried that it would fall into the same traps as "Family Guy," but "Ted" proves to be funny and clever for much of its runtime. Some of the stuff it tosses on the wall doesn't stick, but that's alright.