Ted (2012) is stuffed with tired jokes

Ted is a 2012 comedy directed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, about a Teddy Ruxpin-like stuffed bear who comes to life and eventually starts swearing, smoking dope, and banging hookers. I sincerely hope that premise is funny to you, because it’s more or less the only joke this movie’s got.

The film features MacFarlane as the voice of the CGI animated bear, aptly named Ted, as well as a live-action cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, and Community’s Joel McHale. As MacFarlane’s directorial debut, fans everywhere were hoping Ted would be less lame than The Cleveland Show. And while it has at least that much going for it, the film itself is an odd mixture of witty humor, forced pop culture references, and tiresome gags. In short, it’s everything you’d expect from a movie written and directed by Seth MacFarlane.

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The film begins in 1985, when a young boy named John Bennet receives a teddy bear as a Christmas gift. He wishes for the bear to become real, and soon enough, his wish is granted. Ted magically becomes sentient (much to the horror of John’s parents), and as a talking teddy bear, he immediately becomes a national celebrity. Ted and John’s friendship grows stronger, and it seems like the sky’s the limit for their future together.

Ted (2012) is stuffed with tired jokes

Cut to 2012, where we find that neither of them have quite lived up to their potential. Adult John (Wahlberg) is still living with Ted, and the two of them mostly laze around John’s apartment, smoking weed, eating junk food, and watching Flash Gordon on TV.

Ted (2012) is stuffed with tired jokes

We also learn John is in love with his girlfriend Lori (Kunis), and although a wedding seems to be in their future, she starts to get the feeling that John just might be allowing Ted to come between them.

Ted (2012) is stuffed with tired jokes

At first, John tries to convince Lori that Ted is a great companion, but he loses that argument when they return to his apartment and find Ted has invited over a bunch of prostitutes. This finally prompts John to make Ted get his own place and find a job. Soon, Ted gets hired as a clerk at a grocery store, where his obnoxious behavior somehow gets him promoted.

Things are looking up for John and Lori’s relationship, but then Ted convinces John to ditch Lori at a party to come and meet Flash Gordon star Sam J. Jones (played by Jones himself). They hang out together, John fantasizes about being on a rocket cycle with Jones, and after many shots of hard liquor and the appearance of an aggressive duck named James Franco (don’t ask), John spends more time at the party than anticipated. Lori finds out, and quickly breaks up with him.

Ted (2012) is stuffed with tired jokes

This causes John to get angry at Ted, and the two have a violent brawl over the situation. But they soon reconcile with the goal of getting Lori back.

Ted (2012) is stuffed with tired jokes

Ted convinces Norah Jones (also playing herself) to let John sing during one of her concerts to impress Lori, who’s in the crowd on a date with her creepy boss (McHale). It works and they get back together, but Ted realizes that he’s the problem in their relationship, and decides to get out of their lives completely. But before that can happen, Ted is kidnapped by a deranged fan (Giovanni Ribisi) and his pudgy son. With Ted locked up in the fan’s home, John and Lori have to devise a plan to rescue him.

Ted (2012) is stuffed with tired jokes

I can say that Ted is a rare comedy that doesn’t lose steam in the third act. All too often, comedies start off strong, have a meandering middle, and then fizzle out in resolutions that the audience couldn’t care less about. Luckily, Ted avoids this, and keeps things going at a decent pace, which is most likely due to MacFarlane’s PhD in 1980s pop culture.

For fans of Family Guy, Ted is a live-action film that similarly combines irreverent humor with throwaway gags. The gags don’t always work, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but the lines that connect are mostly funny. Even the absurd scenes work well, such as when Ted is forced to fight that vicious duck. These cartoony scenes provide the most laughs, and the jabs at celebrities and vulgar one-liners are generally funny and on point.

While the set pieces aren’t exactly hilarious, they’re at least ridiculous enough to work. Some highlights include John listing off trashy names while trying to guess Ted’s girlfriend’s name, and the scene where Lori finds Ted with prostitutes. These moments are snarky and contain dialogue that’s truly vicious.

Ted (2012) is stuffed with tired jokes

Another one of the film’s strengths is the appearance of Ted himself. The CGI blends well with the rest of the film, and for a relatively small budget of $50 million, Ted is incredibly lifelike and never feels pasted into his scenes. Compared to Wahlberg’s Transformers movie from earlier this year and its $200+ million budget, the special effects of Ted are unlikely to look dated anytime soon.

But while Ted is funny at times, the end result is often groan inducing. The majority of the film plays like Family Guy skits left on the cutting room floor, only this film doesn’t let the viewer off so easily. Just like MacFarlane’s animated sitcoms, this movie throws rapid-fire jokes at the viewer hoping they stick, but unlike Family Guy and its ilk, Ted has the unfortunate task of having to keep its story going for 106 minutes.

There’s a scene where John and Lori reminisce about the beginnings of their relationship, which leads to a parody of that scene in Airplane! which was a parody of Saturday Night Fever, except it’s not so much a parody as an exact recreation. I’m frankly surprised they didn’t lead into this flashback with the line, “This is worse than the time we went disco dancing!”

Ted (2012) is stuffed with tired jokes

But the fundamental problem with Ted is that it relies way too much on shock value, and eventually, the shock wears off. Once we’ve seen a teddy bear drink, smoke, screw, and swear for the twentieth time, we simply don’t find it funny anymore. Unfortunately, the film thinks we do, and it rarely steps outside of its “teddy bear drinking, smoking, screwing, and swearing” routine. Despite what I’ve said above, I actually think MacFarlane is quite capable of writing witty and outrageous satire, but here, it seems like he figured raunchiness would be enough.

With Ted 2 slated for a 2015 release, one can only hope that MacFarlane has focused on adding more wit and charm next time around to balance out the lowbrow jokes. But I’m not holding my breath. Ted is a mildly funny film that has its moments, but it ultimately fails to include anything to make it memorable, recommendable, or re-watchable.

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  • I wouldn’t hold my breath either, given how A Million Ways To Die In The West turned out.

  • jbwarner86

    “I actually think MacFarlane is quite capable of writing witty and outrageous satire.”

    What are you basing that on? The only thing with his name on it that I’ve ever seen do anything remotely clever is American Dad, and from what I understand, that’s the show he has the least involvement in.

    • Cameron Vale

      My understanding is that he involves himself less in a show when it starts to come together, and more when it starts to fall apart, like a plate spinning act.

  • Ken Zevo

    Let me start by saying two things: overall, and on average, I enjoyed the movie “Ted” … and I don’t remember ANYTHING about a duck, any duck, being in the movie. (And, no, I wasn’t stoned when I watched it, so it wasn’t because of that.)

    Like Seth Rogen’s “Green Hornet” re-make, also recently reviewed here at The Agony Booth, Ted was one of those “odd duck” movies, with a lot of different (and often rather mis-matched) elements thrown together like clothes in a dryer – all rolling over & swirling around each other, forming a sort of comedic Rorschach test ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rorschach_test ) of changing abstract patterns; some of which work together pretty well, and others that fall pretty flat on their face.

    If Ted has 2 great weaknesses, it is the weak opening / ending (more on that later) and the inconsistent, hit-or-miss humor and timing throughout … which is not that unusual for something done by Seth McFarlane, if you’ve ever watched Family Guy. Like the rollercoaster at the local theme park, this movie has it’s ups & downs. It is still more fun than the other rides at the park, but not as much fun as some of the rollercoasters at other parks, in other places. In other words, if you look at the movie on it’s own merits, and don’t expect too much from it, I think you’ll enjoy it just fine. If you try to compare it to the classics, it tends to comes up short, IMPO (In My Personal Opinion.) Ted is more of a quirky cult movie than what I would think of as “that summer’s blockbuster”; but I had a good time, and I felt like I got my money’s worth – just barely – by the time that I came out. I’d grade it as “rent before you buy”, because it will NOT appeal to everyone. Having some liquor and/or weed handy would probably have helped overcome those issues, lol.

    As I’ve already said, both the opening and the ending seemed weak. The “origin explanation” set-up, for how Ted becomes “alive”, could have been handled better, by being handled less. Like the Superman and Batman movies before him, Ted’s origin story suffers from to a little too much detail. The less said, the better; and I think Seth McFarlane should have gone with “less-is-more” too, because it is the little niggling details that tended to grate, during the opening, like finger nails being v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y scratched across a chalkboard. You might want to have a shot and a toke, before the movie starts, to help take the edge off the first 5 to 10 minutes or so.

    Once the premise has been set up, and the facts of the matter established, the movie seemed (to me) to smooth out nicely and become consistently funny, more often than not. This was where I started to really enjoy myself, and it went along that way, with some occasional bumps and pot holes, thru until the last 5 to 10 minutes or so.

    The ending was also weak; so you might want to hit the pause button, and fortify yourself from the bottle a/o bong again, as you round that last turn and head into the finish line. It was sort of one of those “Thelma and Louise” type endings, where there wasn’t really any other GOOD way to end it, except to just keep driving full-speed until it falls over the cliff, and then roll the end credits … metaphorically speaking.

    I think Mila Kunis is an often under-used and under-rated actress, esp. as Meg in Family Guy (a fact that is occasionally referenced as a sort of “in-joke” there), and the same is true of the movie Ted. Honestly, tho, I don’t know how she could have been given a bigger part, without pulling focus from the relationship between Ted and his owner, so it’s a sort of “Catch-22” situation; damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I almost wish they had either not used her at all (lifted that character out of the movie completely), used a different actress (and not necessarily a better one, because it was the dialog that seemed wooden, not the person speaking it), or just put more thought into tweaking her character’s development in the triangular relationship between her, Ted, and Mark Wahlberg (Ted’s owner).

    I could say more, but that seems to cover all the major points. Anything else would just be details or spoilers, so I think I’ll stop while I am ahead – which Ted should have done, but didn’t. I rate it a very acceptable 6.5 of 10; better than many, in it’s genre, but still worse than some. “Somewhat ahead of the curve, but not for everyone” is the most fair and balanced compliment I can give it. My advice: watch the trailer on YouTube first. If you don’t like the trailer, you won’t like the movie. I wish I could say the opposite is true; but, as I’ve mentioned before, this movie will appeal more to the Family Guy national fan base than the general public. If you don’t like Family Guy, you probably won’t like Ted either – even if you like the trailer.

    P.S. As with “2001: A Space Odyssey”, or Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld”, this is a movie best seen under the influence of something, if at all possible, to mellow out the bumps and twists in the ride, esp. at the beginning and end. I wish I had done so.

  • rpdavies

    I found this hit & miss in places, sometimes it was laugh out loud funny, but other times it dragged badly.

    At the time I did wonder if Seph McFarlane’s style of humour was stretched too thin over 106 minutes, over 4 times longer than an episode of Family Guy.

  • MichaelANovelli

    I think the strangest thing about this movie is that, apparently, Japan went NUTS for it! Everyone loves a cuddly bear! ^_^

  • Premonition_45

    A huge problem with Seth MacFarlane is he doesn’t know when to stop telling a joke. It’s like he went to the Mike Myers School of Comedy.

  • Powder_Blue_Suit

    “With Ted 2 slated for a 2015 release, one can only hope that MacFarlane has focused on adding more wit and charm next time around to balance out the lowbrow jokes.”
    Nah. He’ll probably just add more rape jokes.