Ted is an opinionated piece of junk.
Theodore the Bear
At one point, a character pulls a beer out of the fridge. It’s a foofy, fruity-flavored domestic bottled beer. The character reads the label and, disgusted, comments how it’s a sign of the downfall of the USA.
That character is a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, over-sexed teddy bear. He should try watching his own movie for a real indication of the downfall of America.
Probably the two trickiest genres to assess and critique are comedies and concert films. In regard to the latter, it’s too easy to write off an entire production if the writer isn’t a fan of the music; hitting reset and taking an objective view of the whole package is needed. It’s a similar situation with comedies, to a certain extent.
If crude, coarse, foul humor is in a person’s comedic wheelhouse, Ted is wall-to-wall entertainment. If non-stop pop culture references (with a heavy preference toward 1980s movies and music) are somebody’s idea of engaging conversation, then this film is modern Sartre.
Much like Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, The Dictator), writer/director/voice talent Seth MacFarlane (TV’s Family Guy) is an equal opportunity offender. Also like Cohen, MacFarlane uses a muddled comedic strategy that mocks stereotypes while simultaneously perpetuating them. MacFarlane makes numerous homophobic jokes in Ted, but in actuality he is a gay rights activist. He was even named Harvard Humanist of the Year last year.
So, then, what’s so funny about homophobia or anti-Semitism or any number of other taboo subjects MacFarlane sets as his next target if he, in fact, truly opposes what those stereotypes represent? It’s a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too approach that winds up being meaningless across the board.
A Christmas Story
As for Ted, the situation is simple enough. As an 8-year-old boy, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights), was a lonely kid who had a hard time making friends. For Christmas 1985 his parents gave him a big plush teddy bear and it was love at first sight. John wished his new friend, Ted, could be his real, bestest friend for ever and ever.
It just so happens a shooting star (a common ingredient in 1980s Spielberg movies, by the way) was passing right over little Johnny’s house at the time and – voila – his dream came true.
Ted is an adorable walking, talking teddy bear who spouts out more than trite sayings like “I love you.” Now he can hold entire conversations. When John’s dad freaks out about the talking teddy bear, he wants to go grab his gun. “Is it a hugging gun?” Ted asks.
Unfortunately, everybody has to grow up sometime and that includes Ted. Cut to 2012 and now he’s a bear of the world, fully aware of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. And he has a grating personality to boot; he makes Howard the Duck seem as amiable as Winnie the Pooh.
John’s grown up as well, in a man-boy sort of way. He works for a car rental company and is lucky enough to be dating uber-hottie Lori Collins (Mila Kunis, Black Swan) for the past four years.
Lori should trade up, but John’s got such a heart of gold he’s a real catch – that smart ass teddy bear and a penchant for continually reliving the 1980s and a dead end job and a fear of commitment all notwithstanding.
Things get tense between John and Ted when Lori demands Ted move out and get his own place. Oh, and there’s also a bizarre subplot involving a creepy guy (Giovanni Ribisi, The Rum Diary) who wants to buy Ted for his spoiled, fat, and equally creepy son.
Pop Goes the Culture
Ted’s 1980s fetish recalls Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Both share a joy in simply rehashing and making reference to what’s gone on before then expecting that to stand as entertainment in its own right. Perhaps Ted has a wee smidge more eclecticism on its side. Nintendo, Teddy Ruxpin, Indiana Jones, Garfield, Octopussy, Top Gun, Airplane!, ALF, Cheers, Pink Floyd, T.J. Hooker, Tiffany, Star Wars, Knight Rider, Jonny Quest, Hootie & the Blowfish, Katy Perry, Adam Sandler, Van Wilder, Taylor Lautner, and Tom Brady are among those who earn at least some sort of derivative mention or reference.
Most likely, though, if Ted was released in the 1980s it would’ve been written off as self-absorbed, derivative garbage with nothing interesting to say.
A flash point in John’s life was Flash Gordon. The 1980 sci-fi cheese fest has survived as something of a classic in its own right and star Sam J. Jones becomes an unlikely co-star in Ted. Yes. The real gosh darn Sam Jones, looking tan, old, and oddly artificial, features heavily in the movie’s antics. He shows up at a party and snorts cocaine with Ted and John. Funny? Well, not really.
There are other cameos as well. Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern) comes off the best in very brief, wordless appearances as a gay boyfriend. Tom Skerritt (Alien) is a running joke until he finally appears on screen, in a sadly disheveled state.
But the real letdown is Norah Jones. Supplying her vocal chords to MacFarlane’s lyrics for the movie’s opening credits song, Jones also makes her way into the movie’s action. Norah Jones talking about having sex with a teddy bear certainly is casting against type and no doubt seemed like a way to add some sort of comedic edginess to her image. Yeah... But that one doesn’t work. Bad idea. She tarnished her own carefully cultivated brand here.
The Humor Debate
Make no mistake about it. Ted is a smart ass comedy, not a smart comedy.
Is it really, truly funny when Ted knocks the – definitely creepy – Ribisi character by saying, “Oh, that was Sinead O’Connor. She doesn’t look so good no more”? Well, no.
Or how about that scene with Ted partying with four prostitutes, one of whom has pooped on the living room floor? Nah. Gross, sure. Funny, no. Although John’s freaked-out reaction, hiding around the corner like the poop is a giant poisonous spider, is kinda funny, relatively speaking.
At least when Ted goes job hunting and dons a nice suit he’s able to make a crack about himself, saying he looks like Snuggles’ attorney. And, yeah, it was cute when it’s revealed The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is Lori’s ringtone on John’s phone. For the record, the Knight Rider theme is Ted’s ringtone.
But the bulk of the humor is not so cute. Like when Ted gets promoted – not once, but twice – for performing sex acts with his white trash girlfriend on and/or with the supermarket’s inventory. That’s more of a misogynist fantasy than a cultural satire.
In addition to the crass humor, the characters are wont to spout off loads of opinion and that wears thin after a while. One of Adam Sandler’s latest movies sucks and Ted tells you about it. Blah blah blah. It’s derivative, inconsequential chatter that fills the movie’s overlong runtime with stuffing every bit as worthless as Ted’s innards.
The unappealing characters are witty but witless; appropriately enough given their limited ambitions, they wind up right back at the exact same spot, in the exact same dysfunctional relationships, as they were in when Lori was unhappy with John’s teddy bear co-dependency.
No doubt there’s an audience for this movie, just like there’s an audience for MacFarlane’s TV cartoons. For them, they need to raise a glass of fruity beer and toast society’s decay. This Ted’s for you.