Friday 1 November 2013

Movie Review: Ted (2012)

An edgy romantic comedy with a strong streak of bromedy vulgarity, Ted is often hilarious, but also frequently wallows in the smelly mud of low-brow humour.

A lonely eight year old in Boston, John Bennett receives a teddy bear as a Christmas gift from his parents. John wishes for the teddy bear to actually talk to him and become a real friend. By the next morning his wish has come true: Ted is a walking, talking bear. John and Ted make a pact to remain friends forever. After an initial media frenzy, Ted becomes a socially accepted part of the landscape.

Years later, the adult John (Mark Wahlberg) is drifting through an aimless life, a lowly clerk at a car rental outlet. Ted (voice of Seth MacFarlane) is still his roommate and loyal friend, and they spend most of their time getting high by smoking weed, and watching notoriously bad movies, with the cheesy Flash Gordon (1980) a particular favourite. But John has also somehow landed a hot girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), and her patience with the juvenile Ted is wearing thin. Lori pressures John to kick Ted out of his life or risk losing her. Ted also has other problems: the creepy Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) and his dimwitted son Robert want to get their hands on the talking bear, one way or another.

Directed, co-produced and co-written by MacFarlane, Ted unleashes a flurry of R-rated jokes, many squarely hitting the target, but just as many falling flat. MacFarlane is not capable of moving much past sex, drugs, alcohol, and basic bodily functions, leaving the movie swinging from the low branches of the common denominator.

The plot never tries to explain what the smart, professional and gorgeous Lori is doing wasting time with an obvious loser like John, and so the romantic elements never gel, and Lori becomes a boring source of tension between buddies-for-life John and Ted. Meanwhile, a guy and a bear hanging on the couch, smoking pot and pretending to be fascinated by Sam J. Jones floating through space on tin foil junk, are only really interesting for about 5 minutes.

MacFarlane fills the holes in intelligence with brisk elbows-out comedy, and delivers a mix ranging from poo-on-the-floor to cheap shots at everything from the limits of life at a car rental outlet to Norah Jones' ethnicity, passing through all the names most commonly imposed on white trash girls. In between, Lori fends off the crude advances of her jerk office manager (Joel McHale), opening up more avenues for humour revolving around surviving a lecherous boss.

Mark Wahlberg glides through the movie with a slightly bewildered look fixed on his face, probably realizing early on that there is no point in competing for attention with a talking teddy bear. Kunis struggles with the thin material and rarely seems convinced that she's in the right role. The special effects team brings Ted to life with full mastery, and MacFarlane's best work is in giving the bear the voice of an outsider to society who is also the essential insider in John's life.

The metaphor of the bear representing John's failure to launch is blatant, but the film fails to translate the obvious into anything other than a sequel set-up. Ted delivers the laughs, but with fairly limited smarts.

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