By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Some buddy comedies, even if they appear cute and cuddly at first glance, are hard to bear. Not so the rude, crude, raucous, and lewd Ted, which teams a sorta grownup and a stuffed teddy bear.
The result? A cascade of guilty-pleasure laughs.
A childhood teddy bear that has arrived as a Christmas gift comes to life in Ted, which starts out as a Christmas fable and then asserts itself as a vulgar, irreverent and, most importantly, laugh-out-loud funny equal-opportunity-offensive comedy.
TV’s Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane makes his feature-film directorial debut, in addition to co-writing the script with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild based on his own story, and serves as one of the producers.
Mark Wahlberg, further demonstrating his comedy chops on the heels of 2010’s The Other Guys, stars as John Bennett, the bear’s owner, who as a lonely youngster in the 1980s lived and struggled to make friends in his small town just outside Boston.
It’s MacFarlane himself who provides the voice of the computer-animated, motion-capture bear, the boy’s only friend, who grants lonely eight-year-old John’s Christmas wish by coming to life and remaining his irresponsible, potty-mouthed, drug-taking, womanizing best friend well into his adult years.
This miraculous talking-bear happening not only turns Ted into a media sensation but John into an international celebrity in the eighties. Years later, still childlike at age 35, John, who works indifferently as a rental-car agent, spends inordinate amounts of time drinking beer and smoking pot with Ted.
Mila Kunis (who’s done a voice on Family Guy for years) plays Lori, John‘s long-suffering, live-in girlfriend of four years, waiting patiently for John to grow up and stop being a slacker. But that’s easier said than done, especially with the raunchy, drink-and-drug-taking title character dispensing unsolicited advice to John around the clock.
Like a football widow who resents her husband’s obsession with watching sports, Lori struggles with sharing John with Ted. So, because she believes that Ted is a big part of John’s arrested-development problem, she demands that he take some biblical advice and finally put away childish things. Thus does she give him the inevitable Ted-or-Lori ultimatum.
Teddy bears notwithstanding, this is a decidedly R-rated offering with an anything-goes, push-the-bad-taste-envelope script that’s devoted to sweet-natured filth and is liberally peppered with eighties pop culture references. MacFarlane makes Ted a vivid and commanding presence, aided by Wahlberg’s amazingly authentic interaction with him. As was the case in The Other Guys, Wahlberg’s comedic strength is reacting to the laugh-producing force right next to him by playing it straight and providing somebody off of whom to bounce the jokes.
And no matter how one-dimensional watching a stuffed teddy bear talking dirty and flaunting taboos may sound, you’ll be amazed at the level of hilarity that’s not only achieved but sustained.
In addition, the smooth-as-silk special effects work, with Ted seamlessly integrated into the live action in a way that does not call a lot of attention to the process, helps to sell the effective central conceit and includes one of the funniest fight scenes – between a guy and his teddy bear – that you’ve ever seen.
MacFarlane, who also created American Dad and The Cleveland Show for television, originally conceived Ted as an animated TV series. But enough inspired creative energy has been lavished on the narrative spine to make its translation into a feature film seem not only justified but inspired. Wahlberg and MacFarlane develop a live actor/CG creature relationship that convinces as it entertains. And they provide the heart of a movie that, despite its snarky sense of humor, also generates surprising and considerable poignancy.
So we’ll grin and bear 3 stars out of 4. The delightfully twisted and explosively funny Ted knocks ‘em dead.