This may sound like a counterintuitive thing to say, but the least enjoyable aspect of Ted, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s feature-length debut, is the staunch persistence with which MacFarlane — along with his two co-writers, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, both Family Guy alums — creates a 106-minute narrative feature. A more predictable flaw of a project like this, considering the backgrounds of the creative forces, would be that it feels like a disconnected compilation of extended, 20-minute sketches, but that’s decidedly not the case here.
Instead, we get a side-splitting character, a foul-mouthed teddy bear named Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), that’s forced into story-forwarding situations that we don’t much care about. Even more back-breaking, the film’s devotion to narrative strips much of the humor from the title role. Ted’s at his funniest when he’s lounging around, aimless and stoned, or when he’s insulting his way to promotions at the local grocery store, but he’s continually being placed in plot-point environments that restrict his comedic freedom.
The most glaring example of this is the relationship between John (Mark Wahlberg), Ted’s owner and friend since childhood, and Lori (Mila Kunis), a competent, seemingly intelligent woman. They’ve been together for four years, and Ted’s bong, Lori feels, is keeping their relationship from advancing to the next level. This is all well and good — there’s a messy relationship triangle with a cursing teddy bear at the center. Lori’s designed to be a placeholder, and while in the end her and John will probably form a permanent couple, the film will predominantly treat us to scenes like the one of Ted surrounded by a handful of prostitutes on the couch — as well, of course, as one passed-out on the floor.
Well, not so much. The John-Lori relationship is given as much screen-time as the one between the bear and his owner, and Ted therefore becomes a sporadically funny film that’s bogged down by five- or 10-minute stretches of character development and explanation of feelings. Now, I have no problem with Mila Kunis — she’s attractive, obviously, and even here shows the ability to skirt her way painlessly around the blockiness of her lines — but even her well-adorned talent, stuck as it is inside an uninteresting character, can’t hold a candle to the teddy bear’s capacity for hilarity.
Of the other members of the ensemble, I only care to single out Giovanni Ribisi. He plays Donny, a single father who’s had an infatuation with Ted ever since seeing him on television with Johnny Carson as a kid. This is the second Ribisi performance this year, after Baltasar Kormákur’s Contraband (which, incidentally, also starred Wahlberg), in which he’s taken a bit-part contribution and turned it into something certifiably crazy. Watching this deranged man dance alone in front of his television — jerking his hips in all directions, and much less smoothly than Channing Tatum does so in Magic Mike — marked the only time when I wasn’t actively missing MacFarlane’s Ted.
Perhaps others will be won over by the sweetness of the thing — by the fact that MacFarlane seems willing to put his crude, lewd, and rude sense of humor on the back-burner in favor of a legitimate story involving the power of a boy’s nighttime wish and the bonds of friendship. For my money, once you show a deep-voiced bear driving his doped-up owner to work in the morning — and tweeting while doing so, no less — all tangible credibility sort of goes out the window, and mindlessly entertaining farce should take center stage. The disappointingly conventional Ted feels differently, and sent me home lacking in laughs for that very reason.
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