Monday, July 9, 2012

Ted - Theatrical Review


Release Date: June 29, 2012

Ted is not a family film. Ted is not a family film. Ted is not a family film. Ted is not a family film. But, can I take my kids?

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Harkins Theatres Chino Hills
Time: 4:00 pm June 30, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 55 min
Studio: Universal

Loves: Foul mouthed teddy bears, 80's references
Likes: Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, original concepts, R-rated comedies
Neutral: Mark Wahlberg, Family Guy
Hates: The overstuffed narrative
Fact: This is the directorial debut for Seth MacFarlane

Let me get this out of the way first, I do NOT like Family Guy. Did you get that? I do not like Family Guy. I will spare you the details (although they may get referenced in the review though), but I just put that out there for any fans of that show so they know to not read any further unless they can stomach a non-fan perspective. The counter to that is I actually like Seth MacFarlane as a person and an entertainer, his method of comedy just grates on my nerves for some reason. So with Ted I was intrigued to find out if Mr. MacFarlane was a one trick pony or if he had more to him than just making a bunch of funny references over and over again. While I wouldn't call Ted a huge success in that regard, it certainly proved that his comedic talents as a writer, director and star (voice talent) are not tied down to that tired old formula he has been using for years now.

As a young boy, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) desperately needed a friend. Then one day, John made a special wish that his favorite bear Teddy (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) would come to life and be his best friend forever. The next morning John awakens to find his wish come true as Teddy is now a living breathing(?) teddy bear. Ted quickly becomes a national phenomenon and an instant celebrity, but he never leaves John's side...ever. Fast forward 27 years and John is now living with his girlfriend of over four years, Lori (Mila Kunis), has a mediocre job and absolutely no friends still except for Ted, who has also grown up but isn't the cute and cuddly fuzz ball he was all those years ago and whose fame could be measured equally with the cast of Different Strokes (including the dead ones). Realizing his life is going nowhere as long as Ted is still around, John must make a decision as to what matters most, a life with Lori or continuous slacking off with his best friend Ted.

John and Ted party like its 1985.

Seth MacFarlane isn't exactly the type of guy who digs too deep for a joke. He usually puts it out there and hopes that most will get it and anyone else will find it funny simply because of how random and silly it is. That is the bedrock for which his hit animated sitcom Family Guy is based on, numerous in-jokes, countless references to old and mostly forgotten pop culture icons from his youth and lots of jabs at just about any gender, ethnic group or religion he can stuff into a 20 minute episode. While I understand that type of comedy works for most people, it never really hooked me. It always felt a little too lazy. In comparison, a show like South Park will find ways to integrate their jokes into the actual story where Family Guy will simply have a character say the magic words, "Do you remember when...", and we are treated to a flashback of something that means absolutely nothing other than it being just utterly bizarre and out of place. So, with that mindset I am sure you can see why, despite its clever premise, I came into this film with a lot of skepticism.

I am happy to report that Ted is a giant success in both MacFarlane showing that he can actually create great comedic moments without having to resort to his flashback crutch (although that does pop up here a couple of times), as well as proving that his talents stretch beyond the animated world. The writing (also by MacFarlane) is pretty smart throughout and other than a handful of confusing character arcs, it is a fairly solid story which is a miracle when you stop and think what this film is actually about. This movie is about a grown up man living with a living Teddy Bear...and that's it. Sure, there are other subplots thrown into the mix like an unhappy girlfriend, Ted having to move out and get a job, John trying to become a real adult, celebrity stalkers and plenty other little bits that help fill in the gaps when needed, but those are all in service of the idea of a grown man living with his teddy bear. About the only thing that can be said negatively about any of that is just how generic all those situations and circumstances are. The only thing that saves the film from actually feeling that generic is Ted himself.

Ted crashes John and Lori's special time.

Whatever your personal feelings for Seth MacFarlane are, there is no denying the brilliance of Ted's truly inspired high concept. Its something I can imagine being copied later down the road in many different forms. A cute little teddy bear who is wished to life and never goes away and turns into a dead beat best friend? Hook, line and sink her. Ted, the character, is of course a CG construction (although it was hard to tell sometimes) and is voiced by, written by and directed by MacFarlane. So Ted is essentially MacFarlane, or at least a vessel for him to jam every ounce of his being into. While he sounds suspiciously like Peter from Family Guy (something the film actually makes reference to as a way to dodge a bullet), his personality and sheer vulgarity make him stand out as a completely unique creation. Ted owns this movie, as he should since his name is in the title, and despite his somewhat questionable tendencies (just wait until you see what he does with a chocolate bar), I can't imagine anyone feeling nothing but love for the little guy.

Oh, yeah there are real actors in here too and they do...OK. Mark Wahlberg seems to always nail it when he does comedies. In dramas, he has this knack for coming off as this whinny little baby when he is trying to be tough or make a point, but in films like Boogie Nights (yes, he was supposed to be funny in it), The Other Guys and Ted, he always delivers. While he doesn't have quite as many great scenes as Ted, there were at least a handful of standout moments where he just went for broke and had me busting a gut. Mila Kunis, well I guess she is Mila Kunis. She is unfortunately saddled with the jilted girlfriend who does nothing but bitch and complain so if it was the intent that I got annoyed by her, mission succeeded. Oh, and a late movie change of heart also makes her what her character was trying to do the entire movie completely pointless, which I know wasn't her fault, but was annoying.

The ladies like Ted.

There are a number of other actors that pop up throughout the film that I dare not ruin since they offer some of the best surprises for those who go in blind. I will say however that your level of awareness about who these actors are (and their history) will definitely play into how much their presence means to you. You see, Ted is rife with 80's references (and even some late 70's) that I just don't think anyone under the age of 30 will get. I know, that is a large gap, but that is qualified by the obscureness of the references and the total lack of context for most of them. There are certainly ones that pop up that I think anyone will get (just wait for Lori's ring tone), but most of them will just not mean much of anything to the core audience I think Ted was aimed at. I couldn't help but feel that Ted was nothing more than an excuse and opportunity for MacFarlane to throw as many of his favorite things from his childhood as possible into this thing. If you get the jokes and references, you will laugh your ass off, if you don't? Well, you will probably still be amused but just a little bit lost in the process.

Being lost amidst a sea of obscure references isn't really the problem with Ted though. If I had to use one word to describe the root problem behind all of Ted's nagging issues, it would have be length. This movie can be bit too long for its own good at times and seems to be filling in these gaps that didn't need to be filled with things we never needed. Take for instance the evil boss who is trying to steal John's girlfriend away from him. With all the other issues they are having, did we really need this tired old cliche thrown in there? Then there are the stalkers who are after Ted. While I admit that there were some funny moments derived from them, they literally serve no purpose other than to instigate a conflict that will bring everyone back together again. No lessons are learned and no agendas are fulfilled. It is those lazy and convoluted parts of Ted that unfortunately take up a good amount of screen time that could have easily been left on the cutting room floor to make it flow much better and ultimately be a lot more consistent in its humor.

John and Ted have a heart to heart.

I guess Seth MacFarlane was just playing it safe his first time at bat. He wanted to make a film that his fans would love but he also wanted to make sure that just about anyone would get something out of it. Unfortunately by trying to appease so many different groups he lost sight of why everyone wanted to see Ted in the first place, for Ted himself. We didn't need a girlfriend, stalkers or evil bosses, all we needed was the friendship between John and Ted and the adventures they went on (or lack there of). Sometimes simple is the best route. But even with those somewhat minor squabbles, Ted still remains a fantastically entertaining movie and one of funniest comedies released this year (and there have been some good ones). Ted proves that there is more to MacFarlane than just bunch of references and in-jokes but it also proves he still needs to figure out his style. I suggest that you head out and see it when you get the chance, but do us all a favor and leave the dam kids at home.




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