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TED
(***)
Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Director:
Seth MacFarlane
Writers:
Screenplay by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild. Based on a story by MacFarlane
Starring:
Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane (as the voice of Ted)
Length:   106 minutes
Released:   062912
Rating:
R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use
“...finds a comfort zone between crudeness and playfulness that sustains through most of the picture" 

Writer/director/actor Seth MacFarlane has built an empire with his hit cartoon “Family Guy,” so one can hardly blame the creator when his debut feature as a filmmaker, “Ted,” resembles an episode of the beloved series. Raunchy and ridiculous, “Ted” is an easy transition for MacFarlane, who brings to the screen a succession of gross-outs, non-sequiturs, and pop culture references, used to buttress a simple story of a magical wish gone horribly wrong. It’s a funny picture, never quite as sweet as MacFarlane imagines, but still generous with the silly stuff and captivatingly bizarre. And if you happen to adore the 1980 sci-fi extravaganza “Flash Gordon”, than you should drop everything and purchase a ticket immediately.

As a shy 8-year-old, John (played as an adult by Mark Wahlberg) was friendless, spending all of his time with his teddy bear, Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane). Bringing Ted to life with an extraordinary wish, John proceeds to spend the next 27 years with his furry little buddy, growing into a pot-loving, “Flash Gordon” watching duo who refuse to grow up, much to the dismay of John’s longtime girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). Faced with losing Lori, John hopes to distance himself from Ted, urging the bear to starting living his own life. However, Ted’s influence is difficult to refuse, leaving John torn between the woman he loves and the goofball bear he’s known for most of his life. As future relationships are worked out by the trio, Ted and John are creeped out by Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), a desperate father who wants to bring Ted home to play with his demanding son.

“Ted” isn’t aiming to be an award-winner, but it does fully represent MacFarlane’s cinematic interests in a confident manner, launching his directorial career with a specialized hit of oddity meant to please his devoted fanbase. Much like an episode of “Family Guy,” “Ted” contains a few belly-laughs, several groaners, a handful of tasteless comments, and a heaping helping of film and television references, representing a man who stopped paying close attention to the media landscape in 1989. It’s all very familiar, even Ted’s voice is a mix of Peter and Brian Griffin (the movie acknowledges the lift), but it’s sold convincingly through MacFarlane’s focus on nonsense and the picture’s surprisingly good-natured approach. “Ted” avoids pitch-black comedy, selecting a more rascally tone that toys with Boston brute behaviors (served with wicked good accents) and the undeniable magic of a bong-sucking teddy bear that has sex with women.

There’s actually a story to “Ted” concerning the maturation of John, who once needed his bear pal to curse away thunderstorms and now can’t quite quit his bad influence of a friend, leaving Lori frustrated with a man she dearly loves. The plot is formulaic, only brightened by MacFarlane shenanigans (and a bouncy big band score by Walter Murphy), including a spray of vulgarity, a running joke involving Tom Skerritt as a status symbol, and an effort to establish Ted as an authentic display of Christmastime sorcery, with the bear spending much of the 1980s on the cover of magazines and as a guest on “The Tonight Show.” “Ted” also provides numerous movie references to the likes of “Airplane” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” though it saves most of its monkey business for “Flash Gordon,” which receives extended worship onscreen. Even Sam Jones (who dropped out of acting in 2007) makes an appearance, playing a manic version of himself, encouraging John and Ted to try cocaine, also chanting “Death to Ming!” before downing shots. For “Flash” fanatics, it’s a euphoric tribute stuffed with subtle pokes at the movie, carried with a wonderful propensity for violence by a shockingly game Jones. He’s still the true savior of the universe.

Equally as inviting is the lead performance from Wahlberg, who’s uncharacteristically lighthearted as John, playing broad with MacFarlane as the schlub works to put his life in order, yet can’t resist Ted’s mischief. It can’t be easy playing a bro to a CGI bear, yet the actor makes an immense impression with his liveliness and commitment to the presence of Ted. He’s highly amusing, and Kunis also keeps her head above water, avoiding the nag routine to find reasonable irritation for Lori, keeping the material grounded in emotional realism. At least for a film where a stuffed toy has a human girlfriend and narration by Patrick Stewart reveals strong opinions about “Superman Returns.”

“Ted” is a little too long for such a thin premise and a supporting turn by Joel McHale (as Lori’s lecherous boss) is stunningly lame, but the majority of the feature finds a comfort zone between crudeness and playfulness that sustains through most of the picture. MacFarlane isn’t exactly taxing his creative muscles with “Ted,” but as a baby-step transition from television to film goes, it’s one of the more consistently engaging efforts to come around in some time.

TED © 2013 WALT DISNEY PICTURES
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2013 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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