Let’s say you’re a TV mogul, and Universal Pictures hands you $65 million dollars to make your first big-screen comedy. Would you squander the creative opportunity by recycling your TV material and spackling on R-rated jokes? Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) would, and did, with Ted.
Those who love Family Guy may well love Ted even more, but it’s a lazy comedy—stupid, aimless, and seldom funny, its good gags drowned in a sea of duds. As explained by dulcet-toned narrator Patrick Stewart, a magically granted “Christmas wish” imbues the teddy bear of eight-year-old John Bennett with consciousness. The bear, Ted, becomes a flash-in-the-pan celebrity doing Carson one day and forgotten the next, but twenty-seven years later, John (Mark Wahlberg) remains joined at the hip to his fuzzy best friend (voiced by MacFarlane).
This presents a problem in John’s four-year-old relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis), who wants John to put away childish things and begin acting like a responsible adult. John makes some effort to earn a promotion at the rent-a-car outfit where he works, but the Bostonian’s heart belongs on the couch, with Ted and a bong. Despite MacFarlane’s “boys will be boys” attitude, it’s difficult to sympathize with these selfish males, particularly the overtly racist Ted.
John’s halfhearted commitment to Lori means Ted has to move out and get a job, prompting an amusing running gag about how he can’t get fired, no matter how hard he tries. But Ted continues to exert pull on John and push Lori to her breaking point. Then there’s the Misery-esque subplot, in which Ted becomes threatened by a celebrity stalker (Giovanni Ribisi) and his son (Aedin Mincks, the butt of fat jokes).
MacFarlane’s latest talking “animal” essentially puts the voice of Family Guy’s obnoxious Peter Griffin into the body of his dog Brian (in a lame attempt to defuse criticism, MacFarlane makes a joke of the obvious similiarity). And MacFarlane’s sense of humor hasn’t evolved: like Han Solo in carbonite (see what I did there?), MacFarlane is trapped in his own pop-culture nostalgia, and the endless celebrity-themed jokes and movie parodies betray him as more of a comedy parasite than a comedy auteur.
Take, for instance, the scene that unironically parodies not Saturday Night Fever, but Airplane! parodying Saturday Night Fever. Why? No reason.
MacFarlane either takes cheap shots at celebrities or gets them to play along in cameos (Norah Jones being one; a young movie star, in a wordless appearance, another). It’s almost worth the price of admission to see Wahlberg happily clinging to the waist of Sam “Flash Gordon” Jones, but otherwise MacFarlane enrolls in the school of profane shock comedy that’s gleefully profane but too rarely clever. If you yearn to be treated like an eight-year-old, this R-rated kids movie for adults—the very opposite of Judd Apatow’s wave of “time to grow up” comedies— is all yours.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]