Sunday, July 1, 2012
I have little use for those who don’t love teddy bears. For a child (or a child at heart), a teddy bear can be a source of comfort in moments of fear and sadness, a bosom friend, a gateway to the wonderful world of the human imagination. So my reaction to Seth MacFarlane’s teddy-come-to-life comedy “Ted” was always going to depend largely on whether MacFarlane fundamentally loves bears or not. The answer, I think, is that he does, and that the movie’s coarse vulgarity does not reflect an abiding animus toward teddies. Unfortunately – and it’s close – the four-letter words ultimately overwhelm the actual funny bits.
Mark Wahlberg brings his usual effortless adorableness to the part of John Bennett, a Boston (of course) car-rental agent who lives with Ted, the teddy bear he wished to life as a kid (there’s an amazing sequence of the then-viral media sensation Ted appearing with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show”). A quarter-century after his shooting star fell, Ted spends his days getting stoned with John and picking up hookers with names like Sauvignon Blanc. Lori Collins (Mila Kunis), John’s girlfriend of four years, wants John to make a clean break from Ted – to grow up. Meanwhile, a couple of Ted stalkers, Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) and his fat son Robert (Aedin Mincks), have increasingly sinister designs on the little guy. From there, you can write the rest of the script yourself, and at 106 minutes, “Ted” plays itself out with grinding sluggishness.
MacFarlane himself voices the present-day Ted (though why Ted’s voice should change according to human patterns remains a mystery; what’s he going to sound like in thirty years?), and gives himself a lot of profane punch lines, which seemed to satisfy most of my audience. But I found myself laughing only intermittently, and usually at the clean stuff, such as Ted’s description of whom he looks like when John togs him out in a suit for a job interview, or a terrifically staged knock-down-drag-out fight between Ted and John when the latter suggests he wishes he’d asked for a Teddy Ruxpin all those years ago.
Wahlberg and Kunis are two of the most appealing actors working in mainstream movies today, though the latter is given little to do here but look gorgeous and allow herself to be objectified. Ribisi, who did such wonderful work in last year’s “The Rum Diary,” turns in a second strong performance as a father determined never to say no to his son, and who (perhaps as a result?) ends up in front of a TV set dancing flamboyantly to the video for Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
I wasn’t sure, so I consulted with my two experts, Bigg Scruffy and Little Scruffy. They each gave “Ted” one paw. (Actually, Bigg gave it one paw first, and then Little, who doesn’t do a lot of independent thinking, did whatever his big bro-bear did.) That adds up to two Scruffy paws out of four, and that seems about right for “Ted.”