Thursday, June 28, 2012
"Ted" is funny when it's funny, and not when it's not, and boy is there a whole lot of that second part.
When it's on, this raunchy starring Mark Wahlberg and a computer-generated teddy bear contains some of the best laughs of any movie I've seen this year. Unfortunately, the dead spots in between the yucks grow larger and longer, until the funny stuff is the oasis and the rest of the movie is dry and endless as the Mojave.
"Ted" comes from the team behind much of Fox Television's Sunday animated comedy lineup: "Family Guy," "American Dad" and "Cleveland Guy." Seth MacFarlane directed and co-wrote the script with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, and also does the voice of Ted. (Who sounds a heckuva lot like Peter Griffin from "Family Guy" with a heavy clam chow-dah ladling of Beantown accent.)
Their crude but witty humor is on full display in all its non-censored cinematic glory, personified by a magical plush bear who's horny as a beaver, smokes copious weed and uses the F-word liberally.
But MacFarlane et al are feature film novices, and it shows.
The setup is that John Bennett (Wahlberg) wished Teddy to life on Christmas Day when he was 8, instantly turning him into a worldwide sensation. But nearly three decades later, he's just another faded celebrity mooching off his best friend.
John has turned into a 35-year-old slacker who (barely) works at a rental car agency. His girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) recognizes that John can't grow up until he puts away childish things, but it's hard to split up these best buds.
Whenever the movie veers too long away from Ted and his antics, things come to almost a dead stop. The will-he-or-won't-he tension of John's big decision ends up becoming a dreadful bore, and pitiful attempts at pathos in between the fart jokes just stink up the place.
MacFarlane and his team are best at throwaway jokes and non sequiturs -- the same stuff, incidentally, that led to "South Park" mercilessly skewering "Family Guy" in one of their most famous episodes.
For instance, it's established that John and Ted are obsessed with the so-bad-it's-good version of "Flash Gordon" from the '80s. So when they get a chance to meet Sam Jones, who played the platinum-haired hero, it's a hilarious mix of pop culture references and self parody. Jones plays along gallantly, portraying a satirical, hard-partying version of himself a la Neil Patrick Harris in the "Harold & Kumar" flicks.
Other story elements don't work as well. There's a whole subplot of Giovanni Ribisi as an adult fan of Teddy who wishes to buy, borrow or steal him -- ostensibly for his kid, but really to satisfy his own creepy cravings.
It's a one-joke bit that goes nowhere, until Ribisi busts out some deliciously androgynous dance moves for no apparent reason. One thing has nothing to do with the other, but for a minute the laughs are switched on again.
That's the way it goes with "Ted," a comedic feast or famine. If you can stomach the long, dull stretches, you might find the prize worthwhile. For me, this bear story was overstuffed.
2.5 stars out of four