Monday 13 August 2012

Review: Ted

Year: 2012
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Starring; Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale,

Synopsis is here

If you have ever taken any major issue with any of Seth MacFarlane's animated television work (Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show), I see little to no reason for you to watch Ted. It is the film equivalent. Playing on the same tropes that have done him so well since his Larry and Steve shorts, Ted deals with a naive male who has an anthropomorphic toy bear as his best friend. It is a loaded truck of pop culture references and absurd physical slapstick, with a loose plot line to hang everything together. It is a format that has made him a multimillionaire. Like so many trends that empties greenbacks out of pockets, it appears to me that if Seth doesn't think the situation is broken, why should he fix it?

Much like those Star Wars films; MacFarlane routinely parodies, Ted wrings as much out of a premise as its creator can. You are told to "write what you know" and Seth knows this relationship very well, as Ted (MacFarlane) and John (Wahlberg) launch into a series of loosely connected vignettes about them smoking joints, partying and causing grief for the long suffering Lori (Kunis in the Lois role). It's hard not to notice that we've seen this before. Especially as someone who has their late night insomnia fuelled by the exploits of Stan Smith and his wacky family on BBC3. Despite the faint feeling of staleness, the switch from animated to "proper" film making has not lessened MacFarlane's timing and gags. The trails and tribulations of a once happy minor celebrity bear now battered by the harsh realities of life (with added crass humour) works exceedingly well in the hands of a guy like Seth. There's dick and fart jokes at their premium.

It would be easy to attack the films lack of a decent narrative, however, MacFarlane preempts this with an early homage to Airplane (a scene which in itself parodies Saturday Night Fever), reminding us that so much humour at its heart runs on a certain type of illogicality to function. With this said, all jokes have a target and while I'm holding my sides with laughter at some of the films precise crassness and throwback humour (a major set piece and cameo had me in fits), many in the audience found laughs in the "easiest" jokes. The sexually suggestive bear brings amusement, the references to 80's films and T.V did not. MacFarlane's fixation with taking the piss out of Top Gun and Octopussy are fine for late 20 somethings (and over) in a state of arrested development (see me raise my hand) but were clearly lost on those born after 1991. Some references are so neatly odd, that it helps date the movie its own way.

A minor quibble, however, for a film that is in my opinion, a very funny and warm film. The relationship between John and Ted is the film's heart, and the chemistry between Wahlberg and MacFarlane is the thumping man-child heart of the movie. A naive, child-like Wahlberg is always a great Wahlberg and much like Boogie Nights and The Other Guys, he once more, puts in the work. MacFarlane's Boston bear is little more than a more outlandish Peter Griffin voiceover, although once again, Ted recognises this with a throwaway gag. Kunis is fine with a bland role, which does nothing but remind you that she could have been given a funnier role in something like this. Such is life.

Ted will not win over those who already abstain from those who hate MacFarlane. While those whose pop culture starts and ends with TOWIE may find some references fly over their heads. In addition to this, MacFarlane's button pushing sometimes feels a little trite. His jokes on race aren't so much offensive, rather than forced. For me Ted brings laughs when we're given the stupid pop culture and the lead relationship takes centre stage. The chemistry is so strong between a man and his talking toy bear that when a television lands on the character's penis (pop culture crushing manhood metaphor ahoy) I had to laugh.