Seth Macfarlane's slacker comedy is a winner, despite occasional lapses into nastiness.
Seth Macfarlane’s live action feature debut, Ted, is at once utterly typical of its creator, whilst also a hint that there is more to the writer/director than his scattergun approach shows. Transplanting his usual brand of comedy, which is at times wonderfully irreverent, at others tiringly controversial seemingly for the sake of it, to the big screen has proven a success.
John (Mark Wahlberg) is a 35 year old Boston slacker, who as a child wished that his teddy bear could come to life and live as his best friend. 20 years later, Ted (voice of Macfarlane) is still in John’s life, as a pot-smoking, foul-mouthed faded minor celebrity. This frustrates John’s girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis), who just wants John to grow up, while attracting the attentions of a creepy stalker (Giovanni Ribisi).
Straight from the beginning, the Macfarlane hallmarks are all here – awesome cameos (beginning with the very first words in the film, belonging to a very familiar voice-over), and a nostalgic fondness for the late 80’s and early 90’s, although the sentiment is more aimed at the atmosphere of growing up than any specific cultural touchstones.
The script is a predictable scattergun affair, with a more narrative driven structure than usual for the director still finding time to fire out as many jokes as possible. Naturally, some of these land better than others, and his tendency to turn to nastiness does rear its ugly head from time to time. Where Macfarlane the writer does have flair, though, is in crafting relationships. Sometimes glimpsed in Family Guy with the popular Stewie and Brian episodes, this is an ability that is honed in Ted. John and Lori feel like a real couple – the easy banter of two people who share a sense of humour is at once charming and entertaining, and rather than a standard overblown romance we are given a believable central relationship to invest in. The bromance between Ted and John, while more broadly comedic, also works to a tee, and as well written as the exchanges between characters are, it is the cast that form the icing on this cake.
Wahlberg seems to have really settled into a groove of late, with his easy charisma setting him up well as either a blue-collar action hero or a comedy lead. Here he gets plenty of opportunity to show off as the latter, not overshadowed by his animated co-lead but bouncing off Macfarlane’s oafish Peter Griffin-a-like easily. Kunis is sadly underused, albeit in a borderline unlikable character who personifies John’s reluctance to grow up – she is very much the force of opposition here, a standard “bitchy girlfriend” archetype, but thanks to Kunis’ likable presence is just saved. A character that does get lost, though, is Ribisi’s uber-fan, part of an entire plotline that is introduced just to give the plot some element of conflict that feels unnecessary and even a little unwelcome, despite throwing up a decent gag or two.
What any comedy is really judged on, though, is the laughs, and Ted delivers plenty. Genuine belly laughs abound, with Macfarlane’s vocal performance delivering some absolute zingers, and some of the most glorious cameo appearances of the year only sweeten the deal. Macfarlane fans will find plenty to love here, and even those who aren’t swayed by the writer/director’s animated output will find it hard not to grin through the exploits on screen. The odd cheap shot at targets that really don't warrant joking about grate, but Ted has just enough in its locker to overcome this.