Ted is brought to you by Axe Body Spray. That ought to fire off some warning shots, right there.
It’s not that Ted is especially offensive. Sure, there are rape jokes, terrorism jokes, and a couple of particularly heinous ethnic stereotypes. Someone is sure to be offended by this thing. (I thought the caricature of an Asian neighbor was too much, for what it’s worth.) But that’s not anything special: if you create something, someone is always sure to be offended. No, the problem I have with Ted is the same problem I have with most of writer/director Seth MacFarlane’s other work: It’s just a huge fucking pile of jokes.
I can hear you say, “Well, so what? Aren’t most comedies, hopefully, a huge fucking pile of jokes?” And the answer to your question is, “no.” A good comedy is a series of jokes, and the jokes work together in service to a story. They advance the story, they fill out the story—think of a good musical, replace the songs with jokes, and you have an idea of what I mean. Bridesmaids was a great comedy because it was a series of well-crafted jokes about characters and their interactions. Hell, even a good stand-up set from, say, Louis C.K. is a series of jokes that construct a story about a fictionalized Louis C.K. They may feel randomly placed, but every joke has a reason to be there.
Instead, Ted is a crappy framework of a movie—about a grown man (Mark Wahlberg) whose childhood teddy bear came to life—with a bunch of jokes stuck to it. You’ve got pop culture jokes, self-aware jokes about what a flimsy premise the movie has, and gay panic jokes. Some of the jokes are funny. But many of them aren’t. And none of them are essential to the story, because the story is incredibly inessential.
According to modern popular cinema, the single greatest problem that the United States faces in the 21st century is youngish white men who just can’t manage to grow up and accept adult responsibilities.
Almost every comedy in the last ten years is about a man-child who has to learn to grow up and find responsible adult love while still retaining his essential man-childness. The American moviegoing public supposedly can’t get enough of that fucking story; we’ll go see it again and again and again.
John, Mark Wahlberg’s character in Ted, is the man-child of the week. His childhood is manifested in Ted, a teddy bear that came to life because of a wish John made when he was a boy and then just stuck around. But! John needs to grow up because he’s in love with a great woman (Mila Kunis) who wants him to grow up. But! Ted wants John to keep doing childish things—snort coke, fuck hookers, and make fun of bad movies—with him. And! A creepy man (Giovanni Ribisi) wants to kidnap Ted and keep him for himself.
If you are at or above a fifth-grade reading level, you can probably put these three sentences together into a screenplay pretty easily. The characters in Ted make fun of movies like this—crappy, cliched by-the-numbers tripe—and they’re starring in a movie just like the movies they make fun of. Somehow, the smirk Ted puts on is supposed to make that all right. It doesn’t.
At least the acting is pretty good. Wahlberg, for some unknown reason, is convincing as an idiot with a Boston accent. Kunis dives gamely into the sausagefest and rolls around in it with great enthusiasm. And Ribisi’s stalker is an excellent remount of a very well-worked-over stereotype. The cast’s devotion to the weak material—and the excellent CGI powering the Ted effects, with his threadbare patches from years of cuddling—are enough to momentarily make you forget how bad it all is. But then one of those lame, defensive self-aware jokes pop up—someone mentions that Ted sounds just like Peter Griffin from MacFarlane’s Family Guy, someone refers to Ted’s resemblance to ALF—and you remember that you’re watching a bad movie. No matter how good a couple of the jokes are, you can’t shake the feeling that there’s an unforgivable laziness behind Ted.