A film review by Craig J. Koban July 4, 2012

TED jjj

2012, R, 106 mins.


John: Mark Wahlberg / Lori: Mila Kunis / Ted (voice): Seth MacFarlane / Donny: Giovanni Ribisi / Narrator: Patrick Stewart / Rex: Joel McHale / Guy: Patrick Warburton / Robert: Aedin Mincks / Thomas: Matt Walsh

Directed by Seth MacFarlane / Written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild

TED is the single best film – outside of A.I. – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE – about a walking, talking, and freethinking toy teddy bear come to life.  TED is also about the power of boyhood dreams and wishes that physically manifest themselves in unexpected and long-term ways.  The film deals with the notion of friendship, loyalty, and trust and just might be the only bromance comedy that does not involve two men; in its case, it includes an adult male and, yes, his pot and alcohol binging, potty mouthed, and dirty minded toy bear named Ted that certainly does not have the cute and sweet natured disposition of a Teddy Ruxpin. 

Do not ever compare Ted to Teddy Ruxpin.  Ever. 

The trailers for TED – co-written and directed by Seth MacFarlane (his feature film debut), who has created a television animated empire with his long-standing Fox series FAMILY GUY – only hints at the crassness and overall madness that resides within its screwball storyline.  TED may superficially contain an outwardly adorable fuzzy toy bear that comes to life, but this should not in any way shape or form be considered a family film.  MacFarlane’s low – make that ultra-low – brow comedy farce wears its hard-R rating like a boastful badge of honor; it’s wall-to-wall with vulgarity, sexual perversion, rampant political incorrectness, and coarse ridiculousness and never, ever looks back.  That’s part of the euphoric power of TED as a side-splitting comedy.  Some films would hold back after they’ve crossed lines of basic decency, but MacFarlane commendably moves brazenly forward.  There are times when even I questioned some of its tastelessness, but like many great screen comedies, TED goes for broke and tries just about anything to score laughs.  

The film opens in 1985 in Boston and we are told (via a hilarious voice over narration track by Patrick Stewart, whose funny because he’s not trying to be) that the young John Bennett is a depressed and largely friendless boy on his block (he’s so hated that when his fellow neighborhood kids beat up on the lone Jewish kid on Christmas Eve, even the beaten child tells John to bugger off while being pummeled).  The 7-year-old John does find a friend and confidant in the form of his new Christmas gift, a toy teddy bear that he affectionately names “Ted”.  That night he makes a fateful wish for Ted to come to life and be with him “forever.”  As Stewart relays in his unyieldingly solemn narration, nothing is more powerful than a boy’s dreams, except, of course, an Apache helicopter, which is a flying death machine. 



Much to John’s delight and amazement, Ted does in fact come to life when he awakens on Christmas Day, much to his parent’s horror (his dad wants to blast the possessed creation away with a shotgun).  The narrative then flashes 27 years ahead when we hook back up with the 35-year-old John (Mark Wahlberg), now a down-on-his-luck car rental associate, that still hangs with Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), who looks the same, but now has an adult voice and drops multiple varieties of everyone’s favorite four and twelve letter curses with a real relish.  John still loves hanging with Ted, whom refreshingly is not a secret from society (he became an overnight sensation, even appearing on Johnny Carson, but like many child celebrities, society forgot about him).  For the most part, Ted just likes to lay low, score with hookers, and drink and habitually use drugs.  John’s girlfriend and potential wife-to-be, Lori (the always ravishing and vivacious Mila Kunis) is starting to resent Ted’s influence on John, so she gives her boyfriend an ultimatum: he has to chose either her or Ted. 

Something needs to be said regarding Mark Wahlberg’s performance here, especially considering that, as an actor, he’s been everything from exceptional (BOOGIE NIGHTS) to dreadful (THE HAPPENING) to self-deprecatingly amusing (THE OTHER GUYS).  Like, perhaps, Channing Tatum, Wahlberg genuinely seems like a better fit for comedy, and his portrayal here as a man stuck in never-ending arrested development mode has a zany, throw-caution-to-the-wind capriciousness, not to mention a willingness to make himself look silly.   The fact that he had to perform, for the most part, opposite of nothing through the film (Ted is, after all, a CGI creation) is noteworthy.  Not many other actors would have as sincerely committed themselves to looking like an ass for nearly two hours as Wahlberg does here. 

Then there’s Ted himself, and it would be easy to criticize him as a one-joke character, but MacFarlane gets an incredible amount of consistent and crude comic inventiveness out of something that looks like a plaything, but sounds like a Bah-ston-accented thug out of THE DEPARTED.  There are scenes of high hilarity involving him, for example, going for a job interview at a local grocery store and purposely hurling out expletives at his interviewer to ensure himself not getting hired, which fails because the employer becomes enamored with Ted's filthy-minded nerve.  Then there is a verbally ingenious dialogue exchange between Ted and John as Ted tries to make him guess the white-trash name of the girl he’s dating.  One sequence achieves an adorable vulgarity as it displays how John and Ted get through their mutual fear of thunder by singing a dirty jingle while under bed covers.  The pièce de résistance comic high point occurs later in the film, as Ted and John have a highly amusing – and surprisingly violent -  hotel-ravaging donnybrook that’s one for the ages. 

What’s also oddly endearing is the film’s love letter approach to the pop culture of the 1980’s, a flourish that, no doubt, reveals MacFarlane’s own love of the era’s geektastic highs (films has far-ranging as E.T. - THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM are cheekily referenced).  The strongest undercurrent of fanboy love is left for the 1980 camp classic FLASH GORDON (an all-time worshiped film of Ted and John's), which culminates in an apartment party that Ted throws, which involves the film’s aging star, Sam Jones (gamely lampooning himself).  Jones encourages Ted and John to take up cocaine with him.  Of course, when the star of your favorite bad-movie of all-time wants something out of you, you feel obliged to do it; Ted and John do oblige Mr. Jones without much hesitation. 

There are times, though, when TED never really rises above its rudimentary formulas (the premise of a man having to choose between his BFF and his girlfriend has been done to death), not to mention that subplots involving Lori’s scumbag boss (Joel McHale) and a perverted stalker-fanatic of Ted’s (Giovanni Ribisi) that wants to kidnap him brings very little to the table (outside of the utterly creepy vibe of seeing Ribisi cavort around to the music video of Tiffany's “I Think We’re Alone Now”).  A lot of would-be funny gags fall very flat too, like a fantasy scene that spoofs a famous moment from AIRPLANE - which, in turn, was spoofing SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER – that seems oddly shoehorned in for no reason at all.  Spoofing a spoof is not really funny, nor clever.

I pondered other conundrums as well while watching the film: If Ted is just made of fur and stuffing, then why does he need to drink and eat (moreover, where does the liquid and food go?  How is it processed?).  Also, how does a stuffed toy get wasted when he has no apparent central nervous system?  In the aforementioned fight scene between Ted and John, how do Ted’s blows smash John’s face with a pulverizing impact if his hands are just…padded?  Ultimately, though, I was just laughing too much to really care about those nitpicky elements, because TED is so proudly absurd, audaciously bawdy, unapologetically raunchy, and, yes, riotously funny.  In the end, the film is all about man-toy love, which any man will understand is an oftentimes-inseparable and powerful bond.  

Even more powerful than an Apache helicopter.  

  H O M E