Following on the heels of last year’s “Paul” and “The Muppets,” the novelty of a talking teddy bear isn’t by itself enough to make “Ted” a great movie (although the effect is indeed so seamless that you won’t even give it a second thought). While Seth MacFarlane’s theatrical debut is enjoyable and certainly worth one viewing, it’s rather tame structurally, using the typical misunderstanding-based romance plot.
MacFarlane subverts the format in mildly clever ways, such as peppering random swear-laden asides in the stentorian opening narration from Patrick Stewart. The opening explains that, like so much celebrity news in America, people were obsessed with Ted (voiced by MacFarlane in his Brian Griffin tone) for a while, then they moved on. Ted and John (Mark Wahlberg) really do have a sweet-natured friendship, though, and it rings slightly truer than the demands of John’s girlfriend Lori (the adorable Mila Kunis) that bong-smoking layabout Ted move out of his apartment. She feels that the bear is holding John, who works at a car rental company, back from his potential.
“Community’s” Joel McHale is effective as the creepy boss who hits on Lori at her job, as is Giovanni Ribisi as another creep obsessed with Ted. But both subplots are overplayed and predictable. A subplot about “Flash Gordon” actor Sam Jones lands a bit higher on the weird-funny meter, although it also runs thin. A few other effectively offbeat cameos help spice up the narrative.
But most of the laughs come in brief bursts, as with MacFarlane’s animated TV shows, “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show.” There are at least four distinct varieties of fart humor that land in “Ted,” a few decent sex jokes, and one high-quality poop gag.
Overall, though, “Ted” — despite the talking teddy bear novelty — doesn’t feel new and exciting, it feels comfortably familiar. Indeed, I saw it on the Monday after opening weekend, and people in the audience were quoting every word of the thunder song that John and Ted sing to get over their fear of storms. That’s partly because it was heavily featured in ads, but still, I suspect that “Ted” is already growing into a cult classic. Especially among audiences that imbibe the same substances that the two buddies enjoy in the movie.