29 June 2012


Mark Wahlberg, left, is shown with the character Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) in a scene from "Ted."
There are many reasons we go to the movies—to be thrilled, to be scared, to think, to learn, to see the future, to visit the past, to travel to foreign countries and worlds, and one that never seems to get the respect afforded so many others, to laugh.

Being funny is hard, hard work, especially in a movie, when you're working without any real audience feedback until late in the process. If the timing is off or if a couple jokes bomb, that's serious trouble. Sometimes, a movie can be so bad it's funny; a comedy aims to be funny, so when it's bad, it's simply bad.

This is all to say that a good comedy—even if its goal is no loftier than to make us laugh—deserves more praise than we often give it. There should be no shame, even in the snootiest of film circles, in wholeheartedly recommending a movie about a man's friendship with the teddy bear that miraculously came to life when he was a boy—if said movie is bursting with laughs and tells a satisfying story.

I've just described "Ted," the feature-film debut of "Family Guy" mastermind Seth MacFarlane, in which young, friendless John Bennett makes a Christmas wish that gives him a best friend for life. This walking, talking stuffed animal becomes a media sensation, but 27 years later, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane, doing just a slight variation of "Family Guy's" Peter Griffin) has gone from trading quips with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" to being the boorish roommate a 35-year-old John (Mark Wahlberg) just can't bear to get rid of, even though the bear's presence obviously is wearing on his relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis), his girlfriend of four years.

MacFarlane, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with "Family Guy" writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, infuses "Ted" with a scattershot energy similar to what he brings to the small screen, with a handful of cutaway flashbacks, abundant pop culture references, an epic night of partying with "Flash Gordon" (1980) star Sam Jones and a hotel-room brawl presented with "Bourne"-like intensity.

He couples that with what is, for him, a new level of maturity (despite the fart jokes). "Ted" has a sweet emotional core once you've burrowed through the R-rated humor, a real story of friendship—it just so happens that one of the characters is a stuffed animal.

The character Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) is shown in a scene from "Ted."

Ted himself is a visual effects marvel, created in part through a motion-capture performance by MacFarlane. Though he's not as immediately attention-grabbing as Gollum or the ape Caesar from "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011), there is a texture and solidity to Ted that I have not seen equaled. It never seems as if the bear is not on the set interacting with whomever he's sharing the screen. While Oscars in this field normally are reserved for your "Jurassic Parks" and "Avatars," "Ted" deserves serious consideration.

Wahlberg, continuing his rise as a comic actor, somehow sells that the bear is really there, and even more amazingly, manages to not seem foolish while addressing his little friend. The supporting cast also fares well, including Joel McHale ("Community," "The Soup") as Lori's lecherous boss and a delightfully creepy Giovanni Ribisi as a man whose childhood infatuation with Ted has grown into a dangerous obsession. Several actors whose voices are familiar to "Family Guy" fans appear, as well.

His relationship on life support, John eventually sends Ted out into the world to fend for himself, the bear getting a job at a grocery store and his own apartment. The movie's best joke is that everyone in the world is aware of Ted's existence, but because he's old news, they don't care anymore. He's just another washed-up celebrity.

He's crude, cynical, and he encourages John to skip out on his desk job at a rental car company to get high with him on the couch. It's understandable that Lori would want a little space. But, ultimately, he has a good heart, and nearly everything that comes out of his fuzzy little mouth is comedy gold.

"Ted" is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

Greg’s Grade: A

(Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use. 106 minutes.)

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