REVIEW of Ted: Stuffed with Fluff Has Never Been Better
If you’ve seen the red band trailer for Ted, in which Mark Wahlberg plays a grown man whose best friend is his talking teddy bear, you may think you’ve seen the whole thing: Beware the comedy trailer that’s so packed with hilarity that you just know it’s cobbled from the best bits in the movie. But miraculously, Ted manages to sustain itself.
The directorial debut of Seth MacFarlane, mastermind of that animated symphony of crudeness and ’80s pop-culture references known as Family Guy, Ted finds a surprising range of off-color vowel sounds in its potentially one-note gag. It’s also, for anyone who’s ever lived in or spent significant time in Boston, a remarkably accurate portrait of the specific brand of brewski-swilling yobbo the city tends to breed or attract – and I’m talking about the bear.
Ted, the movie’s chubby protagonist (MacFarlane provides his grouchy, growly, straight-outta-Southie voice), begins his life as a garden-variety stuffed toy bestowed upon the young and hopelessly friendless John Bennett (at this point played by Bretton Manley). Ted, like a wise-ass Velveteen Rabbit, becomes “real” when poor, lonely John makes a Christmas wish that comes true: “I wish you could really talk to me – then we could be friends forever and ever.” And lo! Ted speaks, becoming John’s closest pal and confidant.
Some 27 years later, a bear whose only words were once a tinny, canned “I wuv you!” emitted when his tummy was squeezed, is a trash-talking, boob-grabbing, pot-smoking layabout whose greatest joy in life is to sit on the couch next to his equally lackadaisical best pal – now played by Wahlberg – and thrill to repeated viewings of Mike Hodges’ 1980 Flash Gordon. As John says, with anticipatory delight as the opening title appears, “So bad, but so good!”
One of the tricks of Ted -- perhaps its smartest one -- is that everyone, not just John, knows the bear can talk. (A montage shows the bear’s early years of celebrity, including appearances with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, before the masses tire of his particular novelty and move on to other things.) And almost everyone's OK with Ted's presence, until John’s longtime girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis, who doesn’t have much to do but who’s a good sport about it), decides it’s time for her highly unambitious boyfriend (he toils away at a car-rental joint) to put away childish things, i.e. Ted. Time for the little guy to put on a suit (“I look like something you give to your kid before you tell him grandma died,” he mutters) and toddle off to his first job interview, so he can move out of John’s life and into his own apartment.
The transition, as you can imagine, is rough. Ted almost works as an excoriation of those 30-and-over men-children in baggy shorts and backwards baseball caps who appear to have flooded our nation’s guy supply; it also, of course, trades heavily in the kinds of thumb-up-the-ass gags that figure so broadly in the worldview of those guys, but you can’t have everything. Wahlberg, a consistently marvelous actor, gets this sort of character intuitively, and he’s a deft straight man for this tubby little buddy all stuffed with whatever. (He’s also funny in his own right, as when he’s ordering a special bottle of champagne for his and Lori’s anniversary dinner out. “Cristalle!” she coos. He congratulates himself on his choice: “All those rich black people can’t be wrong.”)
And MacFarlane, both as the voice of Ted and the string-puller behind the whole enterprise, knows what he’s doing. (He also cowrote the script, with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.) Family Guy, with its panoply of crude jokes, throwaway pop-culture references and non sequitur cutaways, can be both hilarious and exhausting.
Somehow, Ted manages to not wear out its welcome, though the picture loses its way with the introduction of an unnecessary subplot involving Giovanni Ribisi as an unhinged bearnapper. (These days, does Ribisi ever play a character who’s not unhinged?) Yet Ted holds steady, not least because its technical values are impressively high – it’s easy enough to believe this bad-news bear really can talk – and because Ted’s character design is so winning. His eyebrows are particularly expressive, furry little hyphens of consternation, anxiety or wicked delight. And then, once you’ve heard the outstandingly ridiculous “Thunder Buddy” song, John and Ted’s preferred mode of quelling a stubborn leftover-from-childhood fear, you might just wish you had your own talking bear. But probably not. The clever absurdity of Ted is just about as much NSFW, wish-come-true nonsense as any sane person needs.