Sunday, July 22, 2012


 3 / 5 

There's no reviewing a movie like Ted -- it doesn't matter if the movie is well or poorly constructed, if the cinematography and the score are any good, if the editing is noteworthy, it just matters if you laugh, and Ted will certainly make you laugh.

It's not as naughty as Seth MacFarlane, the mega-millionaire writer-director-actor who's behind it, probably thinks it is -- because it's got far too sweet a heart to be truly bad or subversive.  Watching Ted is very much like watching a smart, decent kid spout crude language and make fart jokes because he thinks it's endearing.  Well, yeah, in a way it is, when it's the right kid doing it.

So, yes, Seth MacFarlane is able to do things beyond the capabilities or sensibilities of many writers and directors, and he does it gleefully.  Beneath the smut, behind the potty-mouth, there's someone who both likes movies very much (maybe a little too much) and has an optimistic, happy heart.

It's also what makes Ted just a tad exhausting and about 15 minutes too long.  The concept is just a little too -- sorry -- high here: A little boy wishes his teddy bear would come to life and be his friend forever, and it does ... forever.  Eventually, they're both reluctant adults who have kept each other down by staying in each other's lives.  Back in1985, the media got wind of Ted's story, he even did a guest spot on Johnny Carson -- then, pfft.  Now he's just a child star who gets recognized, mostly for his irrelevance.  But Ted and John (Mark Walhberg) swore to be best friends.  What happens now that Ted is an unemployed pot-head and John's beautiful girlfriend (Mila Kunis) really wants her boyfriend to, you know, grow up?

The story of Ted is paper thin, it depends on execution, much like 1980's Airplane!, which it quotes unexpectedly and bizarrely.  Indeed, it works best as a pop-culture pastiche, a live-action version of MacFarlane's Family Guy, stuffed and ready to explode with random asides and jokey non-sequiturs.

There are times when you almost begin to worry that MacFarlane's only cultural reference point is blockbuster movies from the mid-1980s.  Starting from its pitch-perfect, Spielberg-and-Donner-esque opening shots, through to the fascinations John has as a child, all the way up to the climactic car chase and the movie's pivotal falling star, Ted pauses every few minutes to throw in a reference from a 1980s movie or TV show.  It name-checks Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Aliens, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Top Gun, Diff'rent Strokes and of course the Star Wars movies over and over.  And over.  And over.  Enough already, we get it, John and Ted live in a state of suspended animation; but so do the filmmakers, it seems, only theirs have led to nine-figure paydays.

"Ted" is the raucous 1991 comedy that would have been perfect if it actually were released in 1991, when it would have seemed relevant.  Now it's just anachronistic and undeniably charming, a straight-male fulfillment-fantasy about a man who meets a woman who ultimately wants him to remain a teddy-bear-loving, pot-smoking adolescent forever.  On some level, it's disturbing, though oddly Ted seems to recognize this; its makers just find it hard to reconcile that they get a lot of money to remain exactly this way forever with the reality of a real world they just observe but don't really live in.  (John's girlfriend is introduced as an "SVP at a PR agency," but works in a cubicle; John works at a car-rental agency but lives in an apartment filled with lovely things; even the hourly grocery-store cashier can afford designer dresses for a swanky evening out.)

But, that's carping.  What it comes down to is: Is Ted funny?  You bet.  And as lunkheaded as it may be, it presents a world view that says finding someone who loves you is important, and believing in the impossible is good.  It's a little technical marvel that's innocently offensive, surprisingly un-subversive, and a sure-fire source of laughs.

(Note: Unsurprisingly, the MPAA gave Ted an R rating for "crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug use." Ted is a generally sunny and happy look at the world and, with parental supervision and perhaps discussion afterward, I'd much rather show this to a kid than have him see more PG-13-rated violence and destruction.)

Viewed July 21, 2012 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks

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