Grown-up boys and their childhood toys have been a recurring feature of American comedies lately, from Steve Carrell finally unloading his vintage action figures in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” to Jerry Ferrara’s enforced separation from his Voltron collection in “Think Like a Man.”
Making his big-screen debut as co-writer (with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) and director, “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane takes the idea to an insanely logical extreme in “Ted,” a movie about what happens 30 years or so after a kid gets his wish for a talking, living teddy bear.
Whatever your feelings about “Family Guy,” they’ll be borne out by “Ted.” Fans of the animated series will enjoy the outrageous, scatological humor and dips into a vast pool of pop-culture obscurities, including a snake-eating-its-own-head moment where MacFarlane satirizes a famous movie scene that is itself a satire of yet another famous movie scene. But even those less enamored with MacFarlane’s scattershot style will admit that there are plenty of funny moments here, surrounded by laggy, airless bits.
Either way, the stuff that sticks to the wall is so outrageously hilarious that it’s ultimately worth enduring the film’s lackadaisical pacing and lazy misogyny (more on that in a moment).
As a friendless young boy, our hero John receives a teddy bear for Christmas, and that night he wishes with all his might that the toy would come to life. The next morning, Ted is walking and talking, and after some initial horror from John’s parents, Ted becomes a celebrity of the moment (as a talking teddy bear would), sitting on Johnny Carson’s couch and making the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
Decades later, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) is a happy (and potty-mouthed) has-been, amiably slacking his way through life with adult John (Mark Wahlberg) despite being a cuddly metaphor for his human companion’s lack of maturity. John’s girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) wants Ted to move out to his own place, but the cord between John and Ted isn’t so easily severed, not when there are bong hits and “Cheers” DVD extras to be shared.
From its references to film (particularly one very silly 1980s sci-fi cult flick) and TV to its clever gross-out humor, “Ted” is very, very funny when it wants to be. Wahlberg’s often-underrated comic chops get a real workout here, and he’s thoroughly convincing as a man-child who gets frightened in thunderstorms and who hides his eyes when Lori has to clean up their living floor after one of Ted’s guests, er, befouls it.
But when the movie isn’t funny, we have to endure stale homilies about friendship and growing up, and the very talented Kunis gets stuck playing the nag who drags Wahlberg’s character into adulthood. Lori winds up being the one mommy in a movie otherwise full of whores, both literally and figuratively. (Kunis does at least score a few laughs along the way, and her pairing with Wahlberg is certainly a step up from their last collaboration, the dreadful “Max Payne.”)
Like its cuddly title character — the effects work that brings Ted to life is top-notch — it’s impossible to stay mad at “Ted.” It may slip up occasionally, but it more than makes up for its mistakes with some of the biggest laughs I’ve had at the movies in ages.