Someone needs to explain Seth MacFarlane to me, because whatever he’s got, I’m not buying it. (I say this out of the gate because I know he has legions of fans, who may now disregard this review as they will.) Every now and then, I heed the “comic genius” labels and tune in to Family Guy or American Dad. Every time, I come away disappointed. MacFarlane carries the air of a bullied child who decides it’s his turn, looking for easy targets and claiming the “outrageous” label to disguise plain, old-fashioned cruelty. In our post-truth pop culture stew, anything that garners attention is acceptable. The release of Ted on Blu-ray can’t even justify that. Hit the jump for the full review.
The film’s problems go far past MacFarlane’s questionable humor choices to the very core concept. To wit, what happens when a boy’s teddy bear magically comes to life, and then both it and the boy grow up? There’s a lot of funny material to be mined with that idea, particularly of the raunchy kind. What was the bear’s first sexual experience like? What happened in prison after his tabloid arrest? Does he ever rent out his fuzzy insides by working as a drug mule? MacFarlane skips over any hint of creative potential in favor of a by-the-numbers buddy comedy. Ted (voiced by MacFarlane himself) becomes the slacker man-child who refuses to accept adulthood, while holding back his best buddy John (Mark Wahlberg) in the process. Had the bear been a live actor, the lazy clichés would have been unforgivable. But because of that mildly novel CGI twist, MacFarlane gets a free ride.
He responds with shockingly one-note gags that wear out their welcome in the first fifteen minutes. The bear’s a skirt chaser, he routinely takes drugs, he says “fuck” a lot. It’s funny ‘cause he’s a children’s toy… get it? His verbal barbs supposedly carry the “truth to power” vibes of a high-end insult comic, except he only targets disenfranchised outsiders. Prostitutes, fat children, people with Lou Gehrig’s disease: the film takes a dump on all of them, then excuses it because a mo-cap stuffed animal is responsible. It feels like the douche-bag frat boy who tells racist jokes in mixed company, then covers his ass with a few hasty “just kiddings.” The ugliness is less irritating than the wanton cowardice involved.
(Case in point: a late dig at Superman Returns that blames actor Brandon Routh for the whole thing. Really, Seth? Not Bryan Singer or the Warners brass, but Routh? Oh right, those other people still carry clout in this town, and might cause you mild distress if you mocked them. Better pick on the actor instead.)
Against that, Wahlberg and costar Mila Kunis (playing John’s put-upon girlfriend) vainly tread water. MacFarlane clearly has no use for them beyond a sounding board for his central creation, and his embarrassing attempts at emotional truth compound the film’s stunning comedic failures. Ted reaches for some late-inning gimmickry to carry the final third, including a cameo by Sam “Flash Gordon” Jones that basically repeats Neil Patrick Harris’s shtick from Harold and Kumar, and Giovanni Ribisi as a creepy stalker fixated on the bear. That last bit carries some potential, but once again the director wastes it in favor of easy shock tactics.
None of that matters for MacFarlane’s faithful, of course. The film became a major hit this summer, and I expect the Blu-ray to do well too. I can’t speculate on what the fans see in him, but I fervently hope it involves some kind of transgressive thrill: a little walk on the wild side to vent their darker emotions. The alternative is to accept that people just enjoy playground cruelty, looking for any excuse to laugh at the soft target. Ted fully embodies that disturbing trend, which has made its creator rich beyond the dreams of avarice. I can’t blame him for going with what works. Just pardon me for holding my nose while he does it.
The Blu-ray makes a decent purchase for fans, though they shouldn’t expect anything groundbreaking. It includes an “Unrated” edition (that doesn’t actually add too much), as well as an audio commentary from MacFarlane, Wahlberg, and co-screenwriter Alec Sulkin. Extras include deleted scenes, bloopers, a making-of special, a moderately funny bit involving Ted’s fighting abilities, and the standard DVD and digital copies.