If you've seen even one episode of Seth MacFarlane's animated TV series "Family Guy," you know there's not a sacred cow he won't happily slaughter and unapologetically serve up with a heaping, warm pile of political incorrectness. He brings that same attitude to his new feature film "Ted."
In 1985, little John Bennett makes a wish that the Teddy Bear he got for Christmas, uncreatively named Ted, would come to life and they would be best buddies forever. His wish comes true and the pair are still best buds when Ted is 35.
MacFarlane sets the ground rules early. Despite the outlandish premise, everyone plays this story straight. The world knows the toy has come to life and eventually just accepts him for the fuzzy, foul-mouthed, pot-smoking adult Teddy Bear (voiced by MacFarlane) that he's become.
The only problem is that Ted is a bad influence on the adult John (Mark Wahlberg). Although John's girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis) has the patience of a saint, she decides it's time for John to choose between keeping his bear or someone he wants to see bare.
Against a musical score that sounds like it was ripped off from the old TV series "That Girl," the film smoothly goes from romantic comedy to buddy picture to stalker movie. Ted has less tact than Don Rickles and Daniel Tosh combined, but MacFarlane, who's both director and writer, finds places to make the character warm and fuzzy. How can you not like a Teddy Bear who laments that he looks like "Snuggle's lawyer" when he wears a suit?
You have to come to a MacFarlane project loaded with plenty of knowledge of pop culture. His favorite target in "Ted" is the 1980 campy film "Flash Gordon." Sam Jones, who played Flash, shows up and eagerly makes fun of the movie and his muscle-bound image.
One reason MacFarlane's humor works is that the subjects of his jabs often participate in the joke. There's a quick bit about "Cheers," featuring Ted Danson, that's one of the funniest moments in the movie.
"Ted" also works because Wahlberg, Kunis and all of the non-Hasbro created cast members treat the story seriously. Because they don't question a world where a Teddy Bear can come to life, it's easier for the audience to accept the concept and just laugh at the pull-no-punches humor.
The only slight weakness is a plot thread about a psychotic dad (Giovanni Ribisi) and his twisted son who, in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" style, want the unique toy for themselves. The bear-napping goes on a little too long. Otherwise, MacFarlane has made one of the funniest movies of the year, and he manages to slip in a few sincere and sweet moments.
The film's little more than a live-action version of one of MacFarlane's animated TV shows, but while he may be a one-trick pony, "Ted" is funnier and more endearing than the average bear.
"Ted," rated R for language, drug use, sexual content, nudity. Stars Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Giovanni Ribisi, Sam Jones. Directed by Seth MacFarlane. Running time: 106 minutes. Grade: A- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com
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