You should already know how you feel about Seth MacFarlane. The creator of “Family Guy” and its spin-offs has been on television for more than a decade, where he honed his unique brand of pop culture-laden gross-out humor. Some critics take issue with his overlong non-sequiturs – at one point, “Family Guy” cuts from the story to show a music video in its entirety – whereas others do not appreciate his willingness to use sensitive topics as a punchline. And although MacFarlane’s live-action debut Ted is occasionally hilarious, he does absolutely nothing to change anyone’s mind.
The basic plot of Ted is glaringly similar to everything MacFarlane has done, to the point where his laziness is starting to show. John (Mark Wahlberg) is a lovable loser who likes to get high and watch movies. His best friend is Ted (MacFarlane), who is a living, breathing stuffed teddy bear. Since John was eight and wished Ted into sentiency, they’ve spent every day together and developed complimentary personalities. Along the way, John fell in love with Lori (Mila Kunis), who looks past John’s dead-end job to see a handsome guy with a good heart. She lives in a gorgeous Boston apartment with John and Ted. It’s a pleasant existence, at least until Ted invites hookers over and lets one defecate onto the floor.
When Ted works, it’s in small increments. MacFarlane lets the jokes fly at a rapid-fire pace, so the gap between laughs is never too far. The best moments involve Ted and John at their most decadent, or laziest. Ted is a believable creature, and it’s a testament to MacFarlane’s production team that there is plausible chemistry between him and Wahlberg. In the movie’s best sequence, Ted and John go on an all-night bender when their mutual hero makes a cameo appearance. The party unfolds with predictable anarchy, yet MacFarlane directs with confident energy so unoriginality isn’t an issue.
Problems arise when the writing attempts to get serious and MacFarlane introduces underdeveloped minor characters. The tension between the central characters is just like any other meddling sit-com. Profanity and scatological humor pepper the scenes, yet the R-rated content is not enough to distract us from the tedious familiarity. Whereas MacFarlane could cull a guffaw or two from off-kilter minor characters, the supporting players in Ted drag the energy down. As Lori’s perverted boss, Joel McHale is not enough of a jerk to serve as John’s antagonist. Giovanni Ribisi plays a father whose obsession with Ted derails the third act. With thick Boston accents, Wahlberg and MacFarlane get a lot of mileage from their scenes together, so MacFarlane slackens the pace whenever he insists on turning attention away from them.
MacFarlane’s strengths are more specialized than any other comic “mastermind” out there. He knows how to construct a one-liner, he knows how his audience thinks, and he knows how to mine pop culture for the strangest references. Try as he might, though, MacFarlane does not excel when he’s shooting sentimental scenes or action spectacle. So when Ted ends with a protracted sequences, including an unimaginative car chase, it’s only natural to squirm in one’s seat. By overstaying its welcome, Ted loses the opportunity to become a classic stoner comedy. I suspect fans who buy the DVD will turn it off past the 80 minute mark and put on their favorite “Family Guy” disc instead.