Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Predictable And Funny, Ted Helps Seth MacFarlane Make The Leap To (Almost) Live-Action Films!

The Good: Very funny, Decent acting, Excellent effects.
The Bad: Painfully predictable plot, Reused jokes.
The Basics: Ted is funny, but remarkably predictable, especially for fans of Seth MacFarlane’s wildly popular Family Guy.

When Seth MacFarlane alluded to a movie project in the opening scrawl to It’s A Trap! (reviewed here!) to a movie project he wanted to get released to pursue, I was a bit skeptical. After all, outside the three main animated projects MacFarlane has created and executive produced, the only other work of his I’d seen was Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy (reviewed here!) and it was atrocious. In fact, the idea that MacFarlane could be a one-trick pony or might not be able to create sustained larger projects is not a particularly audacious one. Unfortunately, despite how entertaining Ted is, it only helps to reinforce the idea that the career of Seth MacFarlane may well have jumped the shark.

Fans of Family Guy, the very fans Seth MacFarlane is counting on to support Ted will recognize several jokes – like Ted complaining about the way pop singers sang vowels in the 1990s – from Family Guy. That there is an explicit reference to MacFarlane’s breakout animated series in the movie is similarly unfortunate, as is Seth MacFarlane voicing the title character. MacFarlane is a talented vocal actor, but the truth is he has pretty much shot his wad through Family Guy and American Dad!. With the distinctly different voices of Brian, Peter and Stewie Griffin and Quagmire coming from the same source (along with the similar voice of Carter Pewtershmidt and others), Ted might have worked better had Seth MacFarlane let someone else voice Ted.

All of that aside, Ted is a fairly innovative and fun concept for a comedy film. And Seth MacFarlane directed Ted at the right time in movie history; computer generated effects make the extraordinary premise look and feel entirely plausible. The basic premise is ridiculously simple: the main human character (John Bennett) has a sentient teddy bear (Ted) as a best friend. The film hinges entirely upon the virtual character interacting with the live-action characters absolutely seamlessly. In many ways, Ted is the film that Robert Zemeckis wanted to make with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Any other issues with the writing and characters aside, Ted is arguably the best use of a computer-generated character in years. The effects are flawless and Mark Wahlberg, who does the lion’s share of acting opposite the virtual character, performs incredibly well, interacting with Ted as if the bear was actually there. As simplistic as it might seem, the ability to act well with entities that are not present and get things like eyelines and comedic timing right is a skill that very few performers get right, but Wahlberg does!

Opening with a childhood wish, John Bennett as a child is granted a talking teddy bear who becomes a real friend who will never leave him. John reveal Ted to his parents and overnight, the talking teddy bear becomes an instant celebrity. Years later, though, Ted is just a burnout who lives with John, who struggles at the rental car place where he hopes to become manager someday. John has been in a relationship with Lori for four years and when John fails to propose to her, she gives him an ultimatum. She wants Ted to move out so they can begin their life together for real.

John tries to push Ted away, which he has a vested interest in as Lori’s boss, Rex, hits on her relentlessly, but even as Ted gets a job at a grocery store, he pulls at John to continue their symbiotic relationship. On an important date night, Ted calls John to come visit him to meet their childhood hero, Sam Jones (who played Flash Gordon). That night effectively trashes the relationship between John and Lori, but in the ensuing fall-out, John pushes Ted away. On his own, Ted falls to the mercy of a man for whom Ted was a childhood hero and when Ted is kidnapped, he desperately calls upon John and Lori to save him.

Ted is basically a long collection of drug, poop, and sex jokes delivered during a fairly uncomplicated relationship struggle. The plot is very much a typical romantic comedy plot where the romantic interest does not like the best friend. Outside the CG character, there is nothing more sophisticated to Ted than that. As such, the plot progression is painfully predictable and MacFarlane telegraphs all of his moves, from having Giovanni Ribisi’s creepy Donny showing up early in the movie and John folding up his contact information to Frank responding to Ted being aggressively honest. That does not make Ted bad, it is just unsophisticated and more obvious than it is audacious.

Seth MacFarlane assembles what would otherwise be an impressive cast for Ted. For fans of MacFarlane’s other works, this is just an assemblage of the usual suspects. Mila Kunis, Alex Borstein, John Viener, and Patrick Warburton are instantly recognizable to fans of Family Guy who have watched all the many hours of DVD bonus features from the series. In fact, Ted makes tongue-in-cheek references to doing just that by presenting a fake DVD commentary from Ted Danson for the Cheers DVD set in the film (“Are there dicks in gay porn?” has become a pretty much instantaneous catch phrase around my house since my wife and I watched the film). The less-obvious performers from Family Guy are joined by Mark Wahlberg who joins the ensemble exceptionally well. Wahlberg is funny as John and he and Mila Kunis have great on-screen chemistry as Kunis plays Lori.

Ultimately, Ted is good geek date night material, but it is not much more than entertaining. It does what it sets out to do very well, but nothing more.

For other works with Giovanni Ribisi, please check out my reviews of:
Public Enemies
Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow
Lost In Translation


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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