★ / ★★★★
If I had to name one thing I especially liked about “Ted,” based on the screenplay by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, it is the surprising move that not one scene is dedicated to keeping the bear–human in every way that it is able to speak, move around, and has self-awareness–a secret from anyone. However, the creativity stops there. The majority of the film is a tired plot surrounding Ted’s thirty-five-year-old owner, John (Mark Wahlberg), and his inability to act like an adult. Since the film is juvenile from start to finish, the jokes–more foul-mouthed than inspired–quickly grow tiresome.
The script targets everybody: racial minorities, gays, people who carry extra weight, forgotten celebrities, celebrities best forgotten as soon as possible, the rich, rape survivors. The fact that they are offensive or are politically incorrect is not the problem. On the contrary, a few lines are clever, but they seem to almost always occur outside the scope of a scene. When a joke draws attention on itself too much, it does not work. Instead, it comes off self-serving and trying too hard to sound smart or witty. What we have here is not a movie but a sketch comedy with one running gag–a teddy bear that behaves badly–and everything else is barely cobbled together.
Let us take the romance between John and Lori (Mila Kunis), his girlfriend of four years. It is mercilessly repetitive: John fails to provide what Lori needs, simple things like a little bit of maturity and respect, Lori expresses her disappointment, John tells her, “I love you” in every way, shape, and form, they start over, and the cycle continues. It stops only when it is convenient for the plot. In other words, when many minutes have trickled away and it is time to get into the syrupy business of John having to choose between his best friend and a potential partner in life.
Here’s a litmus test to determine if a gimmick is simply in a movie to serve as flowery wallpaper: take it away or make a substitution and see if there is a significant change. I argue that if Ted had been a human being, we would still sit through yet another bad movie about a man-child with nothing new or interesting to say about what it means to have an obsessive attachment to a person or thing.
In reality, there is a difference between being childish and being childlike and it is a shame that the screenplay does not bother to tackle them head-on. Instead, many people will be lost in the shuffle, faulting the girlfriend for giving her beau too many chances, that maybe she is also a reason why the relationship is the way it is. The way I saw it, Lori is attracted to John because of his childlike tendencies: his directness; when he knows something is important to her, he gives her his undivided attention; he is tender; he makes her laugh. What she can’t stand is his rampant childishness: mainly his lack of ambition, being far too unmotivated, and always being up for hanging out and getting high. But the comedy, especially this type of comedy, should be simpler than psychoanalysis. We have a talking bear! It is not asking too much to actually do something with it.
“Ted,” directed by Seth MacFarlane, has, at best, fifteen minutes of good material. I did laugh out loud but they are far too sporadic. Some of the later sequels of “Child’s Play” which feature Chucky the killer doll offer more humor than this. And those are slasher films.