Boston, 1985. Eight year-old loner Johnny Bennett finds a stuffed bear under the Christmas tree. Wishing really, really hard, he transforms it into a walking, talking "thunder buddy for life". Fast forward 25 years and John (Wahlberg) and Ted's slacker antics are fast getting under the skin of John's girlfriend (Kunis). Someone has to go, but who will it be?
If you thought the crazed mind behind Family Guy’s legendary chowder puke-athon (season four, episode eight) had no greater horrors to inflict on living-room floors, think again. Midway through Ted, Seth MacFarlane’s delirious feature debut, some weapons-grade pooing has put all that in the shade. That the culprit is not a hopped-up teddy bear — presumably saving himself for the next trip to the woods — but a stoned hooker called Sauvignon Blanc tells you everything you need to know about MacFarlane’s comedy.
For those slow on the uptake, Ted probably isn’t the place to come for droll social comment or Woody Allen-esque introspection. There are memorable cameos galore, but none of them are by Marshall McLuhan. Instead, MacFarlane straps us in for a red-band roller-coaster of lewd humour, fart gags, pop-culture references, blow-job jokes and killer lines that’s so dizzying it should come with a health warning.
The opening, narrated by Patrick Stewart with eyebrows set to ‘cocked’, plays like a twisted antidote to this year’s barrage of fairy tales. Friendless and shy, eight year-old Johnny wishes his toy bear Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) into existence one stormy night, creating a loyal buddy for himself in the process. His new best pal is hardly Harvey, though. For one thing, everyone can see him, beginning with Johnny’s terrified parents; for another, he quickly develops a potty mouth and a taste for the high life that would shame Kanye.
MacFarlane then spins us deftly through 25 years, showing the now-famous bear spitballing with Johnny Carson, signing autographs and living la vida loca in a terrific, E. T.-referencing montage, before dumping us back on the couch, where Mark Wahlberg’s thirty-something Johnny (now just ‘John’) and his cynical bear friend are found smoking bongs and indulging their love of Flash Gordon. Both of them have grown up, and neither of them have; an arrested development that frustrates John’s high-achieving girlfriend (Mila Kunis), who urges her man to dream beyond his next beer. All the while, she’s forced to fend off the advances of her sleazy boss (Community’s Joel McHale).
What follows, it should be stressed, is not Family Guy: The Movie. To borrow the term of the day, there’s plenty of DNA in common with MacFarlane’s multi-Emmy’ed animation — few could miss the similarities between Ted and Peter Griffin’s husky haplessness or the return of Family Guy alumnus Kunis — but those left cold by the Griffin clan are well catered for by some sharp writing and a winning comic turn by Wahlberg. Fast developing into one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors, he delivers the kind of loose charm and comic timing that Adam Sandler used to muster, and, in one tongue-twisting race through trailer-trash first names, flaunts all the verbal dexterity of a rapper. Go figure.
If the hell-for-leather gag rate and Wahlberg and Kunis’ sheer likability elevates this love triangle far above the likes of You, Me And Dupree, major kudos should also go to the film’s FX boffins. Utilising Avatar-grade mo-cap technology, they’ve created a wholly believable central character who just happens to have come from a shelf at FAO Schwarz. If Monsters, Inc. made fur fly in an animation, Ted brings incredible detail to a live-action environment. Inevitably there are flaws. The odd joke whizzes wide of the mark amid the mayhem and the climax sacrifices laughs for a gratuitous chase sequence. The film’s bad guy, Ted’s “biggest fan” (played with whiny relish by Giovanni Ribisi), spirals the plot across Boston’s seedier side via speeding cars, punch-ups and a deranged visit to Fenway Park that’s unlike anything we saw in Moneyball. It’s fun but off-kilter — think Dennis Lehane on helium — and distracts from the fact that John’s biggest enemy is, of course, himself.
Crass, supremely silly and very, very funny, Ted is the comedy of the summer.