The premise of “Ted” starts out simply enough. The loneliest boy in the neighborhood receives an endearingly cute stuffed creature for Christmas, wishes upon a star and finds his teddy bear has come to life. After the initial shock and 10 minutes of TV fame, the bear fits with surprising ease into the life of little boy Johnny. The adult version is played by Mark Wahlberg.
A furry balm to the soul of a boy frightened by the thunderstorms, Ted becomes an indispensable part of Johnny’s life, promising that they’ll be “Thunder buddies” through thick and thin. It is when the pair grows up that real life hits them over the head. Johnny is now 35, works at a car-rental company and has met the girl of his dreams. On the side, he’s still smoking bongs and getting high with his stuffed (now equally grown up) teddy bear. The girlfriend, played by Mila Kunis, is not happy.
As is the case with expectant girlfriends, John is given an ultimatum that places him in-between a rock and a hardplace. Beautiful girlfriend or magical teddy bear, lifelong companion, endless beer guzzler, and designated driver? The answer is not quite so obvious and the rest of the story doesn’t make it any clearer.
Seth MacFarlane, best known as the creator of “Family Guy,” makes his first big screen debut as the director of “Ted” and also lends his vocal talents to the critical role of the animated bear. MacFarlane is excellent in the role. Ted is acerbic, funny and MacFarlane showcases his trademark ability to deliver lines with panache.
Yet, whatever the movie’s intentions, whether it’s to ask audiences to suspend belief or to produce a comedic hit, the story lends itself to muddled hilarity.
The bear is lovable. The humor is crass. Look past the hilarity of a beer drinking, bong smoking teddy bear, and you’re left with an almost worthy plotline. John’s dilemma is not just simply about pleasing his girlfriend, but asks questions of boys who never quite grow up to be men. It recalls the errant days of college life without the responsibilities of adulthood and asks where is that point in which wild young things hang up their pipes and toss out their teddy bears.
Sadly, whether by accident or design, MacFarlane pulls this plot thread quickly enough and moves the audience along to Ted’s next raunchy escapade. A darkish plot twist follows a drunken party involving Flash Gordon, a 1970’s sci-fi hero from John and Ted’s childhood days. Kidnapping, torn ears, lost stuffing and general horror of the comedic sort ensues on screen.
But just as the audience is being reconciled to the possibility that John is finally able to move on with his girl, despite the mournful loss of the bear, another magical wish remakes Ted anew. The movie just cannot break up the “Thunder buddies for life.” It’s a happy ending for all, but one that kills any resolution of the plot and which muddies any intentions of a reasonable story.
In the end, the movie bills itself as comedy, and in this it will receive no complaints. There is solid comedy and there is solid story, but a solid comedy with a solid story is a combination altogether difficult to achieve. “Ted” comes close, but doesn’t quite scrape past without taking some paint off.