A teddy bear who smokes pot, parties with hookers, beds pop stars and spews profanity in a New England accent as thick as chowdah?
This creature comes from the blissfully twisted mind of “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, confidently making his feature directing debut with “Ted.”
If you love his animated TV show, you’ll love this film. In a lot of ways, “Ted” feels like a live-action, big-screen version of “Family Guy” with its pop-culture references and inappropriate racial humor, flashbacks and non sequiturs. (MacFarlane co-wrote the script with two of his longtime collaborators on the series, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.) He’s even included the same sort of orchestral arrangements of jaunty transitional music between scenes. And Ted, whom MacFarlane himself voices, happens to sound exactly like Peter Griffin.
Still, you chuck enough of this stuff at a wall and some of it sticks. Most of it does for most of the time, although some of the one-liners and gross-out gags show signs of strain.
“Ted” also is sweeter than you might expect, despite the predictability of its formula, with a climax that will warm the heart of anyone with New England ties.
Mark Wahlberg stars as John, whose wish upon a star as a lonely kid in the ’80s turned his Christmas-morning teddy bear into a walking, talking friend for life. Decades later, the two are still best buddies living together in Boston, although they’re both understandably a tad stunted; daily waking-and-baking probably doesn’t help matters. John works a nowhere job at a rental-car company, while Ted spends his days getting wasted and enjoying the meager glimmers of fame he achieved for being such an oddity. (A flashback that places Ted on the “Tonight Show” set for an interview with Johnny Carson is seamless.)
Despite this adolescent attachment, John has managed to carve out a four-year relationship with the beautiful, successful and patient Lori (Mila Kunis, who voices the awkward teenage daughter Meg on “Family Guy”). But by this point, something has to give. Lori presses John for a more serious commitment – and to the film’s credit, she doesn’t come off like a nagging shrew for making this request – but John isn’t ready to put away childish things.
This is essentially the film’s central conflict: John tries to please the two most important figures in his life at the same time but repeatedly disappoints them both. Subplots involving Lori’s leering boss (Joel McHale) and a scheme by a creepy dad (Giovanni Ribisi) to kidnap the bear feel like filler rather than real threats, although Ribisi’s character does add a whole ’nother level of daring weirdness to the proceedings.
“Ted” is at its best when Ted is at his worst. The disparity between the innocence such a toy is meant to represent and the utter wrongness of his every action provides a pretty consistent source of hilarity. But much of the material works because the bear has someone to bounce off of; Wahlberg does his best work in situations like this, where he’s playing it straight in a setting that’s silly.
If only the film had come out closer to the holidays: Ted would make an excellent gift for the overgrown adolescent in everyone’s life. ‘Ted’
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Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Mila Kunis, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Running time: 1:45
Rated: R; crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug use