It might be hard to imagine but almost every adult comedy released during the past eighteen months or so have been raunchy, foul-mouthed duds that had me doubting my own sense of cinematic humor, until now. Who would have guessed that the silliness of Ted, the story of a foul-mouthed, pot smoking, cute looking teddy bear who can talk would be the funniest comedy of the year so far?
After a lengthy though very funny pre-credit introduction where we learn how Ted’s ability to walk and talk is the result of a lonely boy’s 1985 Christmas wish, we jump to present day. The young, lonely boy is now in his mid-thirties (Mark Wahlberg) and he still has his talking teddy by his side, only now the cuteness has gone; Ted’s voice has matured (it’s Seth McFarlane, but he has the patter of Vince Vaughn) and the bear has developed a taste for women, swearing, smoking a bong, and hanging out with his best buddy on the sofa watching endless replays of Sam Jones in Flash Gordon on DVD.
Like writer/director Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy on TV, Ted is crammed with an endless array of clever asides and quick one-liners referencing pop culture that never pauses to explain itself, which is exactly what good comedy should always do. If you don’t get it, make a mental note to check the reference later and move on. When John (Walhberg) and his girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis) think back to how they first met on a disco dance floor we first see Lori’s memory of the event – John is such a lousy dancer he literally knocks Lori to the floor with a swinging arm – then we see John’s memory, only he sees himself as the perfect dancer moving to Stayin’ Alive from Saturday Night Fever. That would be funny enough, but McFarlane takes the joke one step further; instead of replicating the moves of John Travolta, Walhberg’s character sees himself as Robert Hays in 1980’s Airplane! spoofing John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
Ted also proves that you can be insulting, crude and totally juvenile with your humor as long as you’re inventive, clever and genuinely witty at the same time, which is exactly what Ted is. When Ted, who used to be something of TV personality twenty years earlier, is now forced to get a job at a supermarket as a checkout clerk he laments that because he’s a former celebrity in a minimum wage job he now knows how the full cast of Different Strokes feels everyday. And when a villainous, sadistic kid tries to kidnap Ted, the bear points to the overweight bully and shouts, “Back off, Susan Boyle!” Insulting, yes, sophomoric, of course, but oh, so funny.
Mark Walhberg is a much better actor than when first starting out in the industry, and Ted shows just how funny he can be. When the ring tone on Walhberg’s phone plays Darth Vader’s death march from The Empire Strikes Back, his girlfriend frowns and remarks how evil it sounds. Without missing a beat, Walhberg insists it’s really something from The Notebook. Walhberg plays it straight, which is the best way to play this style of nonsense. After Ted is forced to move into his own apartment, Walhberg drops by and comments that the bear has decorated the place pretty nicely. “Yeah,” agrees the bear. “Ikea did the whole place for just $47.”
Besides the pop references and the occasional jaw-dropper of a crude moment, Ted actually has a plot culminating with the bear’s kidnapping. The chase and the grand finale of trying to rescue the talking toy isn’t as interesting or as much fun as everything that leads up to that moment, but the film has to wrap itself up somehow, so the chase and rescue will do. After all, any film that has a talking teddy bear referencing Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill claiming that it was “Just… awful,” has to be forgiven of the odd weak moment.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 115 minutes Overall rating: 8 (out of 10)