A wise man once said, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” That’s no joke – especially when it comes to high concept comedies. Just ask Adam Sandler – he’s been trying to make a good one for two decades. Now consider Ted, a movie that centers on a 35-year old and his pot-smoking, foul mouthed teddy bear. In the wrong hands, a concept like this could have easily ended up being as stupid and absurd as Howard the Duck. But Ted is the brainchild of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane which should be enough to let you know that this concept is in perfectly safe hands.
MacFarlane doesn’t just sell the concept convincingly but makes it look downright easy. Ted, which marks the writer-director’s first foray into live-action feature filmmaking after becoming the highest-paid writer on television, is in many ways, like an extended, live-action version of Family Guy. It bears all the hallmarks of McFarlane’s crude, incongruous style of storytelling – numerous pop cultural references, random flashbacks, absurdist fantasy sequences, and of course, the barrage of golden one-liners. There’s even a fight sequence here that rivals the chicken fights on Family Guy.
The only difference this time is that MacFarlane can run the gamut of dirty jokes because he isn’t being restricted by the constraints of public television. And, boy does he run it! This is a movie where F-bombs barely scratch the surface of the filth. Like in Family Guy, most of the jokes come at the expense of different sects of society – ethnic groups, Lou Gehrig’s disease, the mentally impaired, religion, celebrities – you name it, you got it. It’s as if MacFarlane offends people for the sake of keeping the playing field even.
The shenanigans begin back in 1985 when a lonely 8-year-old named John goes to bed wishing his teddy bear would come to life – only to wake up the next morning realizing that his wish has come true. 30 years later, John and Ted are still inseparable “thunder” buddies – spending most of their days getting baked and watching re-runs of Flash Gordon. John, now played by Mark Wahlberg, is also dating the very beautiful and committed Lori (Mila Kunis) who he’s been with for four years now – an incredibly long time considering John’s immaturity and Ted’s filthy lifestyle.
However, there’s only so much you can handle before drawing the line. And that’s where the film’s central plot device comes into play – Lori gives John an ultimatum – he can either continue to live his life as a pot-obsessed couch potato with a dead-end job, or grow up and take his relationship with her to next level. Hmm, Mila Kunis or pot-smoking teddy bear? Decisions, decisions!
For a good chunk of its running time, Ted is outrageous fun – thanks to some incredible CGI work and MacFarlane’s sharp script that keeps the gut-busting, irreverent humor constantly flowing. It’s too bad that it skids off-road in its last act, going from gross-out comedy to heart-tugging yarn. It’s an unnecessary and cliché-driven plot drift that takes away from everything that precedes it.
While it’s nice to see that there’s more to MacFarlane than a string of random pop cultural references (a common criticism of his work), the direction Ted takes is simply far too serious for a movie about a potty-mouthed, alcoholic teddy bear. All this illustrates is that while he may be one of the best, and gutsiest minds in the comedy business, capable of delivering a largely entertaining film, he still has some way to go when it comes down to putting together a proper story. But seeing how Ted is his first stab at live-action feature filmmaking, I expect it’ll be something he’ll get better at the next time around.