THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Male immaturity has been responsible for more comedies than perhaps any other subject, ever. There is something about man-children that just fascinates filmmakers and audiences alike. As much as I hate to say it, the reason is probably because there's a lot of truth in there. Like an object at rest that stays at rest until acted upon by an outside force, men are generally inclined to remain boys until something hastens them to grow up. (And let me make it clear that I absolutely, positively, in no way speak from experience on that one. For reals.) The latest movie to chart a guy's arrival into adulthood is Ted, the debut feature from “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane. I suppose this is an appropriate time to say that, despite everyone I know telling me I'd love his show, I've never actually bothered to watch a single episode. His movie's pretty funny, though.
In a short prologue, we learn that a young boy named John Bennett once got a teddy bear for Christmas. He wished upon a star that the bear could talk, and somehow that wish came true. The two were inseparable from that point on. Then the film cuts to present day. John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) are still together. They spend their days smoking weed and watching Flash Gordon on DVD. When Lori (Mila Kunis), John's girlfriend of four years, wants to advance the relationship to the next level, Ted reluctantly moves out. The apron strings are not easily cut, though; he has a way of continuing to pull John into his orbit of partying and goofing around. John's unwillingness to completely leave behind his stuffed friend puts the relationship with Lori in jeopardy.
Ted gets a lot of comic mileage from its central character. This is not a cute, cuddly teddy bear – at least, not when you get beyond the surface. Ted takes drugs, avidly pursues hot women, and swears like a drunken sailor unleashed in a truck stop. The bear kind of represents the figurative devil on John's shoulder, whispering in his ear and persuading him to give into temptation. Then again, John doesn't exactly need his arm twisted. One of the movie's funniest scenes finds him vowing to put Lori first...until Ted gives him a party invite he literally can't refuse. MacFarlane is one of those guys who just naturally does humorous voices. He makes Ted a multi-dimensional character with a hypnotic personality. Sure, he's crass at times, yet his unwavering loyalty to his owner is very real. Because of this, the joke of a living stuffed animal never wears out its welcome.
Several comedic styles come into play in this movie. There's plenty of raunchy humor, with Ted engaging in R-rated shenanigans. There's also character based humor, as Lori attempts to fight off the advances of her lecherous boss (Joel McHale). And there's a fair amount of pop culture satire, including a multitude of jokes about Flash Gordon and Star Wars, as well as a stunning recreation of a scene from an all-time great '80s comedy. On occasion, the film stops just short of breaking the fourth wall, even making a crack about “Family Guy.” MacFarlane and co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild make all the styles mesh surprisingly well, giving the picture a pleasing anything-goes feel.
Mark Wahlberg was a great choice for the role of John. I like him in comedies. Wahlberg is a talented actor who always plays it straight, which, of course, is always best. If John had been played by someone who actively wanted the laugh, the whole film would fall apart. The ever-feisty Mila Kunis gets a few good scenes too, most notably one in which she deals with the disgusting aftermath of a prostitute Ted brings to the apartment.
As much as I laughed – often quite hard - Ted does have a couple of things working against it. For starters, the overall plot is pretty standard. Man-child comedies really only have one track on which to run and, aside from the talking bear idea, this one doesn't deviate from it. Also, a subplot involving a nutcase (Giovanni Ribisi) who wants to kidnap Ted feels forced. It's not bad, but it's not as funny as everything else either.
At the end of the day, though, Ted remains a clever and outrageous comedy that hits far more than it misses. Seth MacFarlane has transitioned successfully to the big screen and found a new fan in me. It may be time for me to finally catch up on “Family Guy.”
( out of four)
Ted is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.
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