Friday, June 29, 2012
Seth MacFarlane has been phenomenally successful on TV with shows like "Family Guy" and "American Dad." Now he makes his feature film debut with "Ted" (opening June 29 throughout San Diego), which he has written, directed and starred in (voice only).
Not everyone can move successfully from TV to film but Seth MacFarlane seems to have transitioned well. In a way, he's been ramping up to this with a series of "Family Guy" TV movies including spoofs of all three of the original "Star Wars" trilogy. For "Ted," he creates a story that could have easily been a cartoon. The story involves a stuffed bear given to little John Bennett (who will grow up to be Mark Wahlberg) one Christmas and when he wishes the bear were real, his wish comes true. That proves great while John is a boy but when he grows up, his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) starts to grow tired of his constant companion.
What's nice about "Ted" is that it doesn't give you the film you thought it might be from the trailers. It's not about a bear coming to life (that's just a given) or about people trying to come to terms with a teddy bear that can talk (that proves to be a quick and funny back story) or about John starting a relationship and having to introduce his girl to Ted. What the film is actually and surprisingly about is a young man trying to grow up and try to develop a mature relationship with a girl he has loved for years. Sure there's plenty of raunchy humor, ridiculous asides, endless pop culture references, and even singing but at its core, "Ted" is a sweet story about two people and an inanimate object that's come to life learning how to all live together and respect each other. As ridiculous as the film is, it proves to have characters that are more real and more likable than most romantic comedies peopled entirely by humans.
MacFarlane has always had a bit of trouble with pace. "Family Guy" often lets jokes play on for far too long. Sometimes the extended length is part of the gag and sometimes it's just a bad judgment call. He has similar problems with "Ted," which feels long at its 106 runtime. But what MacFarlane does well is create characters that interact well and then spins absurdly off of their situation. So amidst John's romantic troubles we get a hilarious cameo by Sam J. Jones, the Flash Gordon of the 1980 film, who's John's idol. There's even a perfectly done fantasy sequence with John and Sam placed in the old cheesy gem. It's those kinds of geeky pop culture references that make the film fun. At one point Ted even jokes about sounding like Peter Griffin, one of the characters that MacFarlane voices on Fox's "Family Guy."
The style of "Ted" is very much like "Family Guy." Sometimes the action just stops for something silly, like a cameo by Ryan Reynolds or another with Tom Skerritt. There's a healthy dose of New England humor as well and MacFarlane puts his R-rating to pretty good use, getting away with more than he normally does on TV. And there are the familiar cutaways to flashbacks and side stories. But also brace yourself for the kind of politically incorrect and racial sometimes bordering on racist humor you also find in "Harold and Kumar." This is particularly true of one Asian character. Nothing mean-spirited but it may make some uncomfortable.
The character of Ted is also hilarious. He's like a foul mouthed frat boy always encouraging John to skip work, smoke some weed, and just avoid responsibility. He exercises a lot of bad judgment but deep down in all that fluffy stuffing he has a big heart (probably right next to the voice box that says "I love you").
MacFarlane proves loyal to those he's worked with before so you find a number of actors who have been on "Family Guy" as regulars appearing here, most notably Mila Kunis (Meg on "Family Guy") and Patrick Warburton (Joe on "Family Guy"). Patrick Stewart does a nice turn as our narrator. Wahlberg is fine as John and handles acting with a CGI character well. The effects to create Ted are great and you quickly buy into the fact that he's real. But then Phil Tippett (who have brought dragons and lethal bugs to life) and his Tippett Studio know how to breath life into all sorts of creatures. The effects team do a nice job of letting him get dirty and scruffy, and then cleaning up a bit. In other words, he doesn't look pristine and the same in every scene. Ted proves more expressive than Channing Tatum who's his chief box office competition this weekend.
"Ted" (rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use) is raunchy and funny as you might expect but it's also surprisingly sweet natured. Quite a fun and satisfying first feature from MacFarlane.
Companion viewing: "Family Guy: Blue Harvest," "Something Something Dark Side" and "It's a Trap," Baxter" (1989 French film), "Child's Play"