There is really only one joke in Ted — a toy bear comes to life and turns out to have a filthy mouth and a taste for weed — but the movie’s attempts at humor can nonetheless be sorted into a few distinct categories. There are jokes that are funny only because a stuffed bear says them, jokes that are not funny even though a stuffed bear says them and jokes that may or may not be funny because of Mark Wahlberg. Mila Kunis is also in the movie, but she can’t be funny because she’s a girl, and her job is to be amused, tolerant and pretty.
Tolerant amusement is pretty much the best this harmless little picture, directed by Seth MacFarlane from a script he wrote with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, is able to manage, even though it strives for obnoxious hilarity. The cleverly animated ursine title character, voiced in an exaggerated Boston bray by MacFarlane himself, is a fire hose of vulgarity, ethnic insult, homophobia and misogyny. In the modern, meta manner he (that is, MacFarlane) wants both to indulge and to deny the offensiveness of this material, to wallow in ugliness and make fun of it too. It’s a wasted effort though. The sin of Ted is not that it is offensive but that it is boring, lazy and wildly unoriginal. If Triumph the Insult Comic Dog ever got a hold of Ted, there would be nothing left but a pile of fluff and a few scraps of fur.
MacFarlane is best known as the creator of Family Guy, an animated television series that has hung around in the company of The Simpsons and South Park like an annoying younger cousin, bullying and whining its way into a measure of public acceptance. The show shares with Ted a devotion to laughter based on incongruity: the baby who sounds like an English aristocrat; the dog who talks like a bored intellectual; the teddy bear with the voice of the guy who spilled beer down the back of your shirt at the Bruins game.
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Mark Wahlberg (John Bennett), Mila Kunis (Lori Collins), Joel McHale (Rex), Giovanni Ribisi (Donny), Norah Jones (herself), Aedin Mincks (Robert) and Seth MacFarlane (Ted)
Running time: 106 minutes
Taiwan release: Currently showing
Balancing these inventions are sturdy stereotypes. In other words, the guy at the Bruins game is in the movie too, in the person of Mr. Wahlberg, who settles amiably into the role of an affable underachiever memorably named John. A cute opening sequence chronicles the granting of John’s childhood wish that his beloved bear come to life and the flurry of media attention that followed. In the present John is 35, employed at a Boston car-rental office and romantically attached to Lori (Kunis).
She is a good enough sport to accept her boyfriend’s underachieving ways and his devotion to his fluffy best bud, in spite of the skepticism of her friends and the amorous attention of her boss (Joel McHale). But circumstances and John’s own passivity conspire to force him to make a painful choice: the lady or the bear.
Meanwhile, to pad out the meager plot, Ted is menaced by a creepy guy (Giovanni Ribisi) with a creepy mustache and a creepy son (Aedin Mincks). Sexual and flatulence-based gags are accompanied by the usual side dishes: warmed-over pop-cultural references and cheap-shot jabs at celebrities and ethnic minorities. Fans of Flash Gordon, a kitschy early-’80s attempt to ride the coattails of the Star Wars movies, will be especially tickled. Admirers of Norah Jones, who shows up briefly, may on the other hand, be puzzled.
But not offended. There are some genuinely, wildly funny bits in the movie — a brutal motel-room fistfight between Ted and John; a cocaine-fueled talking binge; a few choice insults and smutty riffs — but the feature film is not a hospitable form for MacFarlane. He has no particular visual knack, little interest in storytelling and nothing better to do with his naughty bear besides stuff him into a soft, sentimental comedy that seems almost proud of its lack of wit or conviction.