Wonders never cease. Who ever dreamed I could (or would, even on a dare) sit through a two-hour movie about Mark Wahlberg and a talking teddy bear? Or that I would (or could, even at gunpoint) possibly enjoy it so much? But here is Ted—a genre-screwing Donnybrook that defies description and guarantees, I swear, open-mouthed hilarity. It is refreshingly oblivious to the kind of political correctness that is going to be the death of us all. It is rude, raunchy and repellent to the point of almost being a send-up of the Farrelly Brothers, Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler and the rest of the ozone polluters giving movies a bad name. (Address your complaints to the nearest sewer.) It contains dialogue and depicts situations that cannot be described in a family newspaper—including the ones that are read only by the Addams family. It has nudity, profanity and X-rated detritus unsuitable for anyone with an I.Q. of 50. It is also creative, adorable, ingenious and devilishly, thigh-slappingly hilarious. Do not take my pulse. It must be the heat.
Boston, 1985. John Bennett, an unhappy 8-year-old boy and victim of school bullying, gets a teddy bear for Christmas. He kisses it, names it Ted, and vows to love it forever, making only one wish—that Ted could really talk. The next morning, when the neighborhood bullies are busy beating up the Jewish kids on Christmas Day, a miracle has turned Ted into a talking Pooh that becomes a national celebrity and a popular guest on Johnny Carson. Nobody can shut Ted up, including Seth MacFarlane, the multitasking hyphenate power player responsible for the outrageous animated TV sitcom Family Guy. He is the voice of Ted, and this is his feature-film debut as a director. I have never been a fan of the TV show, but among his other talents, Mr. MacFarlane has recently unveiled his secret passion for singing Broadway and movie show tunes and big-band jazz on a sensational new CD that has not left my player long enough to mix a fresh cosmo. His music is good, and there’s plenty of that, too. Whatever else you think of the movie, the soundtrack swings.
But I digress. Twenty-seven years pass, John grows up to be a 35-year-old Mark Wahlberg, and Ted grows up to be a potty-mouthed, pot-smoking, beer-guzzling, woman-chasing reprobate everybody would like to send back to any toy store that will take him. Ted does everything to break up John and his loyal, long-suffering girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), but John is a grown man who still can’t sleep in a thunderstorm without his stuffed teddy bear. Lori doesn’t get a minute’s peace, even in bed. She even comes home from a lovely romantic anniversary dinner to find Ted entertaining four hookers, one of whom has done something on the living-room floor no maid will clean up. Forced to choose, John moves Ted into his own apartment, but the funny antics (contrived, I admit) are just beginning. A creepy guy with a humongous son who wants Ted for his own kinky nursery games stalks him in an ominous van. “Who was that?” asks John. “That was Sinead O’Connor,” says Ted. “She don’t look so good no more.”
The script bounces off the wall like a rubber Cassius Clay doll, while movie references abound. Ted talks like Little Caesar and takes bubble baths like cigar-smoking Edward G. Robinson. Jousting with sensitive subjects such as minorities and headline tragedies, flaunting convention in a determined effort to offend just about everybody, Ted (as the voice of Seth MacFarlane) mouths insults in the words of Seth MacFarlane (as the voice of Ted). In no time, you can’t tell one from the other. I ended up loving them both. The CGI Ted has digital features that morph into awesome expressions. He can look and act querulous, hurt, sensitive, impish or obnoxious, depending on the line. When the fat psychotic kid pulls his ear off, Ted yells “Back off, Susan Boyle!” But while you roar at Ted’s aside to the audience (“Someone had to go Joan Crawford on that kid!”) you can also feel the “Ouch!” Peace is restored when Lori saves Ted from his kidnappers, and Ted saves Lori from her oversexed boss, an A-hole who collects lurid artifacts like John Lennon’s glasses and Lance Armstrong’s testicles, “freeze-framed and bronzed.” There’s a guest appearance by an aging Sam Jones who played Flash Gordon, a Norah Jones concert where Mr. Wahlberg reverts to his old Marky Mark days and sings “The Love Theme From Octopussy,” and a vicious duck named James Franco. You had to be there.
In fact, most of Ted eludes description, analysis and explanation. You just have to hold onto your own certifiable sense of humor and let Mr. MacFarlane take you where he wants to go. Then get out of the way and enjoy it. Will it make you wince with embarrassment? That’s a promise. Will you also laugh? In double-time, like a Rockette. I don’t want to see a string of sequels about Ted, who has now worn out his welcome, like Bonzo. But one time around this summertime sandbox has left me cooled off, like a hydrant spray in a heat wave, and limp with laughter.
Running Time 106 minutes
Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Seth MacFarlane
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