Day 144: Ted

"No matter how big a splash you make in this world, whether you're Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, Justin Bieber, or a talking teddy bear, eventually, nobody gives a shit."

I've gone back and forth a lot on Seth McFarlane. Love him or hate him, he's an undeniably talented individual with his finger very firmly on the pulse of populist comedy. His detractors, and I have been among them at times, will tell you that he prefers quick & cheap pop culture references and throw-away sight gags to actual situational comedy, and nowhere is that more apparent than on his first and most famous creation, the tv show Family Guy. Thankfully Ted, his first foray into feature filmmaking, has yielded mostly hilarious results.

The film opens with suitably treacly narration from Patrick Stewart (the film is populated with tons of voice actors from McFarlane's various animated series), informing us that one magical Christmas in 1985, a lonely eight year old boy named John made a wish that his only friend, a teddy bear named Ted, would come to life. His wish was granted and Ted became a quasi-celebrity before falling into obscurity. Now they're all grown up and John (Mark Walhberg) & Ted (voiced by McFarlane) are slacking their way through their 30s with no real direction in life.

John's girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) is enamored with John, but beginning to grow weary of his relationship with Ted. She gives John an ultimatum shortly after their fourth anniversary, either Ted goes or she does. John helps Ted find an apartment and a job at a grocery store, but his vow to grow up and leave his childish things behind falls apart quickly, putting his relationship in jeopardy.

There are multiple subplots involving such talented actors as Matt Walsh as John's boss, Joel McHale as Lori's creepy boss & Patrick Warburton as one of John's co-workers, all of which are frequently hilarious, but they're all secondary to the main plot which is basically a man growing up mixed with healthy doses of an addict continuously relapsing. In other words, it plays like an extended sitcom pilot, as things never stray too far from the main triangle of John, Ted & Lori. This isn't necessarily a complaint, it just accounts for why the film plays more like a sitcom than a feature film.

The film goes astray in the third act, and while it has been out for a while, I don't want to risk spoiling any of the details. Needless to say, when they do open up the world and decide to play it more cinematically, it's nowhere near as good as when it's just extended riffing between the characters. It basically turns into a thriller, and though it does feature an inspired and creepy Giovanni Ribisi, it's borderline ridiculous, which is really saying something in a movie about a talking stuffed animal. 

Most of the bits in the film, however, are hysterically funny. Ted & John's obsession with the immortal camp classic Flash Gordon pays off huge dividends with an extended cameo from that film's star Sam Jones. The film is never better than in the second act house party sequence featuring an amped up Jones. Another bit I loved was the running gag involving Tom Skerrit, though it did feel akin to something from Family Guy, as did Ted's repeated backfiring attempts to get fired from his grocery store job, but they're all funny enough to not feel out of place or totally superfluous, as is the case with many of that show's best gags.

When did Mark Wahlberg turn into not just one of the best actors working today, but one of the most solidly reliable comedic actors? I'm serious, I don't know how it happened. His inspired performance in I Heart Huckabees was one of the first times I remember thinking he was hilarious, and most of his best work since has come in comedies. He's great here as the typical comedy man-child, though I didn't buy for a minute that he was only 35 which everyone makes a point of mentioning every couple of minutes. McFarlane is also great, saving virtually all of the best lines for himself, and Kunis does the most she can with a horrendously under-written role. 

The supporting cast is sublime from Warburton to McHale, Ribisi, Walsh, and Jones. Norah Jones & Ted Danson have pretty great cameos, as do two other superstar actors that I won't spoil here. It's a remarkably well-rounded comedy cast, and it's no surprise that this film turned into as big of a hit as it did. It hits all the right notes with its characters, it's just that none of them are fleshed out enough to amount to much more than cameos at the end of the day, with the possible exceptions of McHale & Ribisi.

Normally this is the point in the review where I say that if you're not already a fan of the creator or writer or actor or director involved, that this won't make you a convert, but I think this might be an exception to that rule. I could very easily see someone who's not a fan of McFarlane's tv work being won over by this film. It's hilariously funny and plays well to a variety of audiences. Ultimately however, if you don't like your comedy crass, this film doesn't have a sweet enough core to make up for the crassness, and there were probably one too many gay panic jokes, which are never funny, for my taste.

The third act is ultimately pretty lame and manipulative, but it ends on a high note, and the first two acts are good enough for you to overlook it's inability to stick the landing. I look forward to seeing what McFarlane's future as a filmmaker holds, this is as promising a first comedy feature as we've seen since The 40 Year-Old Virgin, and he has an equally uncanny ability to attract major comedic talent to his projects. So even if you're not a fan, Ted may not make you a true believer, but it will certainly make you laugh, which is more than I can say for virtually every other comedy film that came out this summer.

GO Rating: 3.5/5

[Photos via Box Office Mojo]