Friday, July 06, 2012

'Ted' is raunchy, sweet fun

Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the hugely popular animated series "Family Guy," makes the leap to live action feature films with "Ted," a gloriously coarse film about a grown man and his foul-mouthed living teddy bear.

In recent years, there have been a lot of arrested development comedies of man-boys, who are forced to face the real world. "Ted" takes this story arc one step further by making the protagonist best friend a teddy bear.

As "Ted" opens, we are introduced to little Johnny (Bretton Manley). He is so loathed by the other kids that they won't even beat him up as that would further acknowledge his existence. Even the little boy getting pummeled tells him to get lost. Johnny makes a Christmas wish that his teddy bear would come to life and be his lifelong friend.

The wish comes true, leading Ted to become an instant celebrity including an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. Flash forward 27 years later and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) and John (now played by Mark Wahlberg) are lazy stoners obsessed with the 1980 film "Flash Gordon."

Remarkably, John is dating Lori (Mila Kunis), who is beautiful, intelligent, well employed and incredibly patient. After four years of putting up with Ted's negative influence, Lori is finally asking John to move on by having Ted move out.

There are subplots involving Lori's lecherous boss (Joel McHale) and, even stranger, a creepy stalker (Giovanni Ribisi) who wants to buy Ted. For the most part, though, the film focuses on the friendship of John and Ted and John's strained relationship with Lori.

This is more or less an R-rated live-action version of "Family Guy," complete with cutaway gags in the form of flashbacks and fantasies. There's even a score that recalls the sitcom-esque music of "Family Guy."

Much like "Family Guy" and MacFarlane's other shows, "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show," "Ted" is full of vulgar and offensive humor. The film is proudly un-politically correct with racist, sexist and homophobic jokes. So, how is that acceptable?

MacFarlane's sense of humor, however crude it may be, is rarely mean spirited or truly negative. His jokes are meant to point out the hypocrisies and double standards of a culture that has become overly PC. He is holding both the bigots and the overly uptight to task. He doesn't condone the actions of bigoted people, but rather mocks a society that claims to loath them and yet creates an environment that continues to produce them.

The biggest problem with MacFarlane's style of humor is that his target audience of 15 to 30 year olds doesn't always understand the satirical elements of his humor and simply repeat the offensive jokes because they seem cool.

For those who have a taste for low brow humor with an edge, "Ted" has some very funny bits. Two of the best parts — already seen in the R-rated trailer — the "Thunder Buddies Song" and Wahlberg's listing of white trash women names are instant classics.

On a technical level, Ted, a computer-generated creation using motion capture technology, is impressive. Similar to last year's little seen "Paul," which featured a foul-mouthed alien instead of a foul-mouthed teddy bear, it isn't long before you stop seeing Ted as a special effect and simply see him as real.

Wahlberg, who first showed off his talents at outrageous humor in 2010's "The Other Guys," is a good dramatic actor, but continues to prove that, with the right material, he may just be a better comedic actor. He has a believable easy-going chemistry with Ted, which is even more impressive when you consider that Wahlberg was playing against nothing as Ted was added in post-production.

Kunis, a fine comedic actor in her own right, is sadly just given the thankless role of the girlfriend. Fortunately, she isn't written to be a shrill harpy, but it would've been nice to see Kunis get to build some comic energy with Wahlberg and MacFarlane. Instead, she is just seen as a buzzkill, which is usually the case with women in MacFarlene's creations.

In terms of direction, MacFarlane paces his film right. He knows how to set up a gag and not cut away too soon. In fact, he often lets a gag run long, a trademark from his animation. When the film builds to a climactic confrontation with Ribisi, MacFarlane manages to create some genuine, and unexpected, tension.

What will be most surprising though to MacFarlane fans is how sweet and tender the film becomes. The film takes a dark turn in the final act and there's some real emotions mixed in with the laughs. This injection of heart into the proceeding helps to make the film become more than just another crass comedy.

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