Aug 6, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!”
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.