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BETTER OFF TED

There are 30 solid laughs in Ted, the new comedy by Family Guy creator, Seth MacFarlane. The rest is, apropos for a movie about a talking teddy bear, fluff.  A good director could have mined quite a bit from the situation of an adult man and his best friend bear, but MacFarlane has not mastered the art of live action direction.

Little Johnny Bennett lives a lonely existence until a Christmas wish turns his new teddy bear into a talking, thinking creature. The two grow up, inseparable in every way.  Ted becomes a celebrity as the world learns of his animation, yet quickly becomes a flavor of the week.  John (Mark Wahlberg) has a loving girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis) but constantly jeopardizes his love life with his co-dependent relationship with Ted, who’s grown into a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, hypersexual plush toy.  Lori, who has a successful career at a PR firm, is looking to mature with someone, but Mark suffers from arrested development and Ted holds him back from becoming a man.

Ted is a silly film that has its charms.  Its greatest asset is Wahlberg.  Had a softer actor, like Luke Wilson or Paul Rudd, been cast, the premise would have crumbled, and the John character would have come off weak and creepy.  By casting an actor with a gruff persona, one with a “Take No Prisoners” attitude in films, John’s immaturity comes off more lovable than pathetic, more comical than depressing.  Besides co-writing and directing, MacFarlane voices Ted with a snarky but self-aware humor. When the lines are funny, his delivery is perfect.  He’s definitely given himself the best material.  But when the humor is just crude, which is often, MacFarlane’s lack of warmth cannot save the joke. Kunis, a lovely actress who showed depth in Black Swan, is given little to do.  She whines about Ted when the plot requires and then comes to his rescue when the plot wants to go into another direction. Also wasted is the talented Giovanni Ribisi as a weird kidnapper.

Ted’s script is uneven.  It feels like it was written in a smoke-filled dorm room. It’s not only immature, but amateurish.  Plus, this is similar territory to the vastly funnier TV show Wilfred, where Elijah Wood hangs with an imaginary pot-smoking, crass household dog.  That show feels subversive; this feels like a Frat party skit. And what’s with the abundance of gay panic? Are we still in 2012 calling someone gay as an insult and thinking it’s funny?

MacFarlane’s direction is the film’s weakest link.  The film suffers from unimaginative camera work and sluggish editing.  The animatronics are excellent though.  Ted not only talks but goes eight rounds with his best friend in a hilarious fight scene.  The audience truly believes Ted lives. Not only are the movements fluid, but the subtle touches, like fragments of missing fur on Ted’s chest due to years of activity, illustrate a talent not found in much of the film.

Ted would probably work better on a home entertainment center with access to an open bar.  Grade: C

 

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