This past summer’s big comedy hit “Ted” is a story about a boy and his teddy bear; it is rated “R” for “crude and sexual humor, pervasive language, and some drug use.” If these two facts seem contradictory, you don’t know jack about “Ted.” Written, produced, directed, and partially voiced by Seth McFarlane, the creator of TV’s popular “The Family Guy,” the movie will appeal primarily to twenty-something males. It is not, I say NOT, your basic holiday kids’ movie.
Narrator Patrick Stewart starts us off in best storybook fashion, telling us this will be a magical tale about a Christmas wish come true. We’re alerted that something, um, different is coming when we watch the little neighbor boys take a break from Christmas Eve snowman building to beat up a Jewish kid. The next day, eight-year-old John Bennett gets a big teddy bear, which he loves so dearly that he wishes it were alive. When his wish is granted the next morning, it’s the start of a beautiful friendship.
But it goes on way too long—25 years to be exact. After Ted’s initially horrified parents and astonished world discover that Ted can talk, he enjoys a certain celebrity, even getting a guest shot on the “Tonight” show with Johnny Carson, where he displays his penchant for acerbic humor. But fame proves fleeting: Ted becomes a has-bear, consoling himself with a Bud and his bong almost from the time he gets up at 11 a.m.
For his part, Johnny (Mark Wahlberg) clearly loves Ted more than his mediocre job at a rental car agency and arguably more than his girlfriend of four years, Lori (Mila Kunis). Ted lures Johnny away from his job, into drunken and drug-sniffing partying, and then into the consequent hot water with Lori, who tells Johnny it’s her or the bear. The delayed adolescent Johnny effectively chooses his foul-mouthed, longterm roomie over the love of his life. How they get back together and to the altar is the stuff of hundreds of sentimental flicks, representing a failure of the imagination.
McFarlane and his fellow screenwriters, “Family Guy” vets Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, mix in a subplot about a creepy fan (Giovanni Ribisi) who kidnaps Ted for his sadistic son to “enjoy,” a device that basically gives the filmmakers an excuse for a car chase through Boston. The addition indicates the film’s central problem: bad pacing, or not knowing when to quit. There are long stretches where not much funny happens, followed by frantic action—such as a fight in a motel room or a wild party—followed by another long dull stretch. The upshot is not comic relief but boredom.
The f-bombs, fart jokes, and gross outs lose their appeal pretty quickly, as does the novelty of a smut-talking teddy bear. Wahlberg and Kunis play it straight throughout, but the flimsy vehicle just doesn’t support these good young actors. McFarlane’s animated TV show experience doesn’t translate to expertise behind a movie camera: he falls back on cliché far too often, so the verbal humor doesn’t get much help from the visuals. And if you don’t know certain young celebrities such as Robert Pattinson, you’ll miss out on a good deal of the inside jokes.
“Ted” did good box office business, on the strength of McFarlane’s and Wahlberg’s reps, a ubiquitous ad campaign, and the woeful tastes of the target audience. Unless you are among the latter, I’m guessing that you have better things to do than rent “Ted.”