Ted (2012)

Comedy Rated R

Perhaps the funniest thing about Ted is that the stuffed bear of the title could be replaced by, say, Jason Segel without much disruption to the movie.

The premise here is that thirtysomething John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) still lives with the talking toy that magically came to life when he was a kid, and now they’re stuck in a stunted bromance. The movie – indeed the world around it – doesn’t give Ted a second thought, and so when Ted and John sit on the couch and bicker or laugh, the scene is played completely straight (and thereby gets more laughs).

The real absurdity of Ted exists on the movie’s sidelines: a shot from a horse-riding trip in which Ted sits atop a German shepherd; John’s rendition of the theme song from Octopussy; a running gag involving Tom Skerritt. Co-written and directed by Seth MacFarlane (who also voices the bear), Ted may be about two layabouts, but it works hard to cram a joke into nearly every corner.

The movie also has a couple of good performances. As in The Other Guys and Date Night, Wahlberg once again shows a knack for comic timing, especially in his scenes with the CGI bear. (At one point they have a knock-down fight that goes on and on as it reaches for new heights of comic viciousness.) As John’s girlfriend Lori, who likes Ted but also wants to be a bigger part of John’s life, Mila Kunis brings depth and humor to what could have been a harridan part. Wahlberg and Kunis are so silly and sweet together that John’s dilemma becomes a fair and fully realized one: how can he balance loyalty to a friend he still appreciates while also fully committing to the woman he’s come to love?

There is a surprisingly gentle undercurrent to the movie that I didn’t expect. This was my first introduction to MacFarlane – being unfamiliar with his “Family Guy” animated television series – and I was happy to encounter this sort of emotional maturity. Less encouraging were the countless gay jokes and racists asides that suggest a lingering xenophobia, but I suppose when we’re talking about an R-rated comedy involving a swearing, pot-smoking teddy bear, we should take whatever sensitivity we can get.