3 out of 4 stars
If someone in Hollywood is working harder -- or being better compensated -- than Seth MacFarlane, they're hiding it well. The producer, director, writer and voice performer on multiple animated TV shows, MacFarlane is also an accomplished singer and musician and is one of the industry's wealthiest and most powerful men. The world, as they say, is his oyster.
Not quite a full-blown departure from the small-screen animated TV format, "Ted" is both MacFarlane's first feature and foray into live-action. Free from the chains of network censors and able to get as raunchy as an "R" rating could possibly allow MacFarlane mixes fantasy and gross-out, frat-boy humor to great effect in "Ted."
Thanks to a brilliant opening flashback scene (complete with authoritative narration by Patrick Stewart), MacFarlane is able to immediately separate "Ted" from all other "imaginary friend" movies ("Fight Club," "Harvey," "A Beautiful Mind," "The Beaver" and "Donnie Darko" among others). Teddy bear Ted (voiced by you-know-who) talks and interacts with the entire cast of characters and not just John (Mark Wahlberg), his owner/best friend since childhood.
Once everyone found out that Ted could talk, he became a minor celebrity and actually toured the talk-show circuit in the late '80s. In the present day, however, Ted spends his days like many flash-in-the-pan former child actors. He sits on a couch smoking a bong, watching game shows and providing a bad influence to John. In addition to keeping John professionally stymied, he's a perpetual irritant to John's longtime girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis, gorgeous as usual).
Luckily for John, Lori doesn't care that he makes far less than she does, but after four years of aimless dating she wants more and that includes Ted moving out and getting a life of his own. Reluctantly John gives Ted his walking papers but that does little to stop their daily get-togethers and in tandem they eventually exhaust Lori's patience.
That's pretty much the entire plot but in "Ted" (as well as "Family Guy" and "American Dad") plot places a distant second to graphic sexual innuendo, grade-school-level bathroom humor and scatological pop-culture references. The stand-out in the last category comes in the form of actor Sam Jones who is mostly known for playing the title character in the 1980s sci-fi cult film "Flash Gordon." Jones appears as himself for a good stretch and seems to revel in lampooning his wind-blown, space-stud past.
Clocking in at close to two hours, "Ted" could have been near-perfect had MacFarlane excised the 20 or minutes spent with a stalker dad (Giovanni Ribisi) and his pudgy spoiled son (Aedin Mincks). Very little of what these characters contribute is close to funny and they are creepy in a very off-putting way. In addition to being repellent and a buzz-kill, they practically wipe-out all of the accumulated good-natured cheer the rest of the movie otherwise provides.
Not a guy most would consider sentimental, MacFarlane ends the third act exactly that way but also manages to make it warm and fitting without being warm and fuzzy and sappy. Be sure to stick around for the pre-closing titles that includes a raucous "where are they now" sequence and be glad you're not Taylor Lautner.
If you're not already at least a semi-fan of "Family Guy" and/or are easily offended by profanity, sexual frankness and bodily-function humor -- or are looking for a suitable first-date flick -- you'll want to stay far away from "Ted." The same goes for parents who see a teddy bear on the movie poster and think Ted is just so cute 'n' cuddly and might be perfect for the kids. "Ted" is strictly for open-minded adults who appreciate both crass and sophisticated, obscure humor. MacFarlane is one of those rare comedians who can simultaneously make you think and snicker like an eighth-grader. That's no mean feat. (Universal)