When I heard Seth MacFarlane, the baby-faced genius behind TV’s most hilarious sitcom, “Family Guy,” was planning his feature-film debut, I was as excited as Stewie Griffin at (Turkish) bath time. I was even more thrilled to learn the plot would revolve around a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear magically brought to life via his owner’s childhood wish. And when I discovered Mark Wahlberg and “Family Guy” regular Mila Kunis were signing on to star, I began eagerly counting the days until the aptly titled “Ted” premiered. But ...
When I heard Seth MacFarlane, the baby-faced genius behind TV’s most hilarious sitcom, “Family Guy,” was planning his feature-film debut, I was as excited as Stewie Griffin at (Turkish) bath time. I was even more thrilled to learn the plot would revolve around a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear magically brought to life via his owner’s childhood wish. And when I discovered Mark Wahlberg and “Family Guy” regular Mila Kunis were signing on to star, I began eagerly counting the days until the aptly titled “Ted” premiered.
And now that the movie is finally here, my patience is rewarded with ... this: a gross-out comedy more in line with Peter and Bobby Farrelly than the guy responsible for creating history’s funniest animated series? Oh, the inhumanity!
Yes, there are moments when MacFarlane’s clever side intercedes, and those bits are great, especially his biting digs at washed-up child stars and Taylor Lautner. But for the most part, he and co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Weld go for the cheap and lazy, like poop-and-fart jokes, and walk-ons by the likes of Tom Skerritt, Norah Jones, Ryan Reynolds and Flash Gordon himself, Sam J. Jones, that serve no purpose beyond providing a knowing wink and nudge to MacFarlane’s hippest fans.
Hookers and Boston women in general (they’re all plain and pasty-faced) take a beating, too, along with Asians, Jews and homosexuals. The real losers, though, are teddy bears. I don’t think I’ll ever look at one the same way after being inundated by Ted’s boorish behavior.
He drinks, smokes, snorts coke and almost always has his cute little button snout wrapped around a gurgling bong. And don’t get me started on his driving skills, or lack thereof. He’s also a sexist pig, although technically he’s a bear. And, boy, does this bear love to bare women, be they prostitutes, checkout girls or drunken party guests. And to think, he doesn’t even have a penis. (Damn you, Hasbro!) Imagine if he did.
It would no doubt encourage him to wear pants on more occasions than just job interviews down at the neighborhood supermarket. But it also might lead to some pretty bizarre unwanted pregnancies, followed by Fox News spouting indignities about bestiality.
Then, animals having sex with humans has been a staple on “Family Guy” for years. But when the Griffins’ dog, Brian, is humping more than legs, it somehow doesn’t seem as offensive as seeing Ted (voiced in a thick Boston accent by MacFarlane) getting busy with people of the opposite species.
If that sort of thing strikes you as funny, you’ll probably enjoy “Ted” a lot more than I did. But I was expecting something more than repetitive jokes, incessant pop culture references and rampant misogynism.
At least Wahlberg, as Ted’s lifelong companion, John Bennett, makes for satisfying company, as does Kunis, sexy and charming as John’s extraordinarily patient girlfriend, Lori Collins. When the film opens, the couple are on the eve of their fourth anniversary together, but cracks are beginning to show.
Lori reasonably wants John to grow up and take more responsibility. Part of that, sadly, will require John finally weaning himself from Ted, who not only shares their Back Bay apartment, but regularly trashes the place with his hedonistic parties.
The last straw comes when Lori arrives home to find a pile of poo on her living room floor, left behind by one of the four hookers surrounding Ted on her bong-water-stained couch. Thus the wheels are set in motion for the classic him-or-me ultimatum.
Of course, anyone in their right mind would instantly choose Kunis over a stuffed I-don’t-care bear. But John isn’t “anyone.” And MacFarlane isn’t anyone to resist allowing this showdown to drag on for what seems like hours.
It’s clearly a weak attempt to pad an already paper-thin premise that gets diluted further by tacked-on subplots involving Kunis repeatedly resisting the nearly constant come-ons from her wealthy boss (a wasted Joel McHale) and a 1980s-obsessed stalker (Giovanni Ribisi) who has loved Ted, a former national celebrity, from afar for years.
Neither strand goes anywhere and, worse, takes time away from a dimension of Ted that is woefully underdeveloped. And that would be how the little guy is dealing with being a washed-up child star that went from gracing magazine covers and trading barbs with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” to being forever camped out on a couch getting high.
MacFarlane does a few entertaining things with the idea, especially offering Justin Bieber a look into his dismal future, but more would be fun. It certainly would be more interesting than watching John and Ted trade bong hits for the umpteenth time.
As for the technical aspects of the movie, they are all first rate, particularly the contributions by the animators, who’ve managed to render Ted’s motions and emotions so lifelike that you completely forget he’s built from nothing more than computer-generated smoke and mirrors.
Kudos also go out to cinematographer Michael Barrett, who makes the various Boston locations – including the Aquarium, the Esplanade and Fenway Park – look lush and inviting. But for all the scenic beauty (and, yes, that includes Kunis), it can’t come close to covering all the holes in a story that’s both unimaginative and uneven.
Given that scattershot nature, one can’t help wondering if MacFarlane simply stretched himself too thin. In addition to his supervisory duties on “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show,” he also co-wrote, directed and supplied the voice of “Ted.” And that is in addition to all the vocal work he does on his three TV series.
It’s a wonder he had time to get anything done. But the strain shows, and it markedly reduces the ferociousness of this snuggly bear’s bite.
TED (R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug use.) Cast includes Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi and the voice of Seth MacFarlane. Co-written and directed by MacFarlane. 2 stars out of 4.