Ginger Spice sure has let herself go
Grade: B –
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale and Giovanni Ribisi
MPAA Rating: R
During one of many parties speckled throughout Ted, the titular teddy bear gets into a tussle with a feisty pet duck. Beyond the scene’s obvious inanity and sidelong racism directed at the bird’s histrionic Asian owner, there’s a subtle-as-an-anvil simile between writer-director Seth MacFarlane’s animatronic plush toy and Howard the Duck, Ted’s sarcastic, humanoid forerunner. And before you scoff at the notion anyone would pay homage to one of cinema’s most notorious flops, you should first know that the ultra-campy Dino De Laurentiis film version of Flash Gordon figures prominently throughout MacFarlane’s caustic comedy, down to casting Sam Jones, the original Flash, as himself.
Indeed, Ted is about a man who can’t bring himself to let go of childish things, made by a filmmaker gripped by the same affliction. The 38-year-old MacFarlane litters the film with his trademark non sequiturs and pop culture references (often occupying the same quip). He venerates Airplane, T.J. Hooker, Octopussy, and the aforementioned Savior of the Universe, whilst working in nasty jabs at Justin Beiber, Kate Perry, Taylor Lautner and Superman Returns. MacFarlane, who recorded a jazz album last year, both sets Ted to the big band score of frequent collaborator Walter Murphy and manages to ridicule the grunting diction of 1990s pop-rock.
Playing man-child John Bennett, Mark Wahlberg revives the underrated comic timing he exhibited in The Other Guys. As a tyke, the ostracized John spends a Christmas wish to will his favorite toy Teddy to life so they can become BFFs. As a 35-year-old car rental agent, John still lives with Ted, now a profane, pot-smoking, boorish bear with a bent for broads and bongs. John’s crippling arrested development, and Ted’s massive influence on it, meets with the dismay of John’s long-suffering girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis).
Ted is essentially a stuffed variation of Peter Griffin from MacFarlane’s Family Guy with a harder R-rating and thicker Bahston brogue. While I laughed along with its exercises in Gen X-themed frivolity, Ted still suffers from a sluggish narrative that lacks momentum or true tension. John, Lori and even Ted all realize that it’s high time for Ted—essentially a stand-in for the loutish movie roommate archetype—to go his separate way. The film spends 106 long minutes watching that process slowly come full circle. A third-act bear-napping plot turn involving a creepy loner (Giovanni Ribisi, natch) and his chubby son feels like filler, and by this time you’ve become so in tune to the pop power chords that you see an Aliens allusion coming about 30 seconds beforehand.
The ultimate irony of Ted, however, comes when it takes an otherwise deserved dig at the movie Jack and Jill, since an inordinate amount of MacFarlane’s gags tap the same scatological vein as Adam Sandler’s cruddy comedies, including plenty of race- and sex-baiting guffaws. Am I so fickle that I’ll favor one lowbrow laugher over another simply because it contains reverent references to James Bond and Star Wars? Perhaps, although that doesn’t make Ted very good…just more accessible.