Does a Bear Talk Too Much in the Woods?

Ted: written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild; directed by Seth MacFarlane; starring Mark Wahlberg (John Bennett), Mila Kunis (Lori Collins), Seth MacFarlane (Voice of Ted), and Giovanni Ribisi (Donny) (2012): Seth MacFarlane doesn’t explore much new territory here, but Ted really is quite funny. As I’m not a Family Guy fan (per the Family Guy calendar in one of the Futurama movies, “12 laughs a year!”), that’s high praise.

A child’s Christmas wish brings his teddy bear to life (the level of the kid’s imagination being indicated by the name ‘Ted’, I guess — this is not a film populated with smart people). After a brief spurt of celebrity for the bear, things settle down. And 28 years later, Ted, mostly unchanged (his voice has deepened but he’s still anatomically neuter, though not philosophically so), still hangs out with John, played by Mark Wahlberg.

Most of the laughs come from the holy MacFarlane trinity of political uncorrectness, slapstick, and obsessively weird pop-culture riffs. I thought the extended structural reference to the 1980 movie Flash Gordon was pretty funny. You may not. Love him or hate him, MacFarlane just stays in there throwing and throwing and throwing. He doesn’t test spaghetti by throwing it at a wall; he MAKES spaghetti by throwing it at a wall.

Ted demonstrates that MacFarlane is somewhat limited as a filmmaker. The film looks awful, as in early Kevin Smith awful. Both the direction and the cinematography wouldn’t look good on TV, much less on a big screen. Besides those problems, a keener editor could have worked wonders. A subplot involving Giovanni Ribisi as a Ted-obsessed stalker goes nowhere, and expends about 20 eminently cuttable minutes doing so. The subplot also allows for a plethora of unfunny fat jokes directed at Ribisi’s fat, young, obnoxious son. It’s bottom-of-the-barrel time at House MacFarlane, and for no good reason — at 106 minutes, the movie is ridiculously padded as it is.

However, Wahlberg and Kunis are game, though Kunis doesn’t get a lot to work with — she’s pretty much stuck as generic unfunny girlfriend for all her aesthetic and thespic charms. Someone should write a romantic comedy just for her. MacFarlane voices Ted as MacFarlane Voice#1 — basically Family Guy or American Dad with a Boston accent. It’s funny stuff, though one wonders what a voice actor with greater range could do with the part. So it goes. Recommended.

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