The summer's most hyped comedy is a funny one, but it's not likely to endure
The problem with Ted is essentially the same one that's plagued everything by writer, director and star Seth MacFarlane, especially Family Guy; once you get past admittedly appealing gimmicks like a talking, intelligent baby, a talking, intelligent dog, and now a talking, intelligent teddy bear, what's left? Mostly scatological humour, cheap pop culture references that almost always pander to children of the '80's, and... and... not much else really. I doubt many watch films like Ted, or MacFarlane shows, for the plot, though; at the end of the day, it’s all about the laughs. And in all fairness to the film, it does provide its fair share of those, but not enough of them.
To be sure, the concept seems like a winner. A lonely boy, John Bennett (Bretton Manley), wishes for his new teddy bear to come to life and be his best friend forever. Almost immediately, his wish is granted, but this is more than a case of being careful what you wish for. For as John grows up, Teddy, or Ted, grows up with him, and by the time John has become a thirty-five year old man (Mark Wahlberg), Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) is a walking, talking, smoking, drinking, drug-taking, womanising layabout, a clear hindrance in John's relationship with his girlfriend of four years, Lori (Mila Kunis).
It's easy to see the comic potential in a set up such as this one, especially if you're a fan of MacFarlane's work. By nature, though, hyperactive saturation comedies like Ted have little lasting value, and are funnier when watched in the form of clips and trailers*. Turns out that YouTube may well have been both a godsend and a detriment to MacFarlane; greater fame at the price of of premature over-exposure. Sometimes, less is more.
That’s the least of Ted's problems, though. The self-awareness and take-no-prisoners attitude of the film is certainly admirable, but MacFarlane's approach is too blunt, too in-your-face. As funny as Lori's sleazy boss, a rather unconventional grocery store manager, a scene at a Norah Jones concert and the possible resurrection of one Sam J. Jones's career are, they feel self-indulgent, and arguably even a little smug. Worse still, the film force-feeds us a villain for the sake of plot development, and once said villain becomes important, the film has been playing so many things for laughs that it's impossible to fully care. MacFarlane could learn more than a thing or two from Kristen Wiig, whose Bridesmaids script was well structured and tonally sound as well as funny.
What saves Ted from sinking to the level of the starkly unfunny Paul (in large parts, Ted feels like Paul, or ALF, with a teddy bear instead of an alien), apart from its generally more effective humour, is the surprise that it actually has something to say behind the cultural influences, excrement and bodily emissions. The mere presence of Ted into John's adulthood, and the effect that he has on John and Lori's relationship, is an uncomfortable reminder that one can, or at least should, only cling on to his or her adolescence for so long. Indeed, do we praise the likes of the Indiana Jones films, original Star Wars trilogy, Knight Rider and Flash Gordon because they were genuinely better than today's entertainment, or are we letting our need for nostalgia get the better of us? Both Ted and the recent American Reunion deserve credit for at least touching upon this theme, no matter how amusing they are.
Luckily, Ted is amusing. And, as I said earlier, I suppose that's really all that matters. But if you're expecting it to match the best comedies of last summer (Bridesmaids, The Inbetweeners Movie) you'll be disappointed.
* * * * **How many of you already know The Thunder Song off by heart?