Friday, 10 August 2012

The Friday Tramp Review: Ted

After making his name with the animated comedy shows Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, writer-director Seth MacFarlane arrives with Ted, his frequently funny, intermittently hilarious, but ultimately unbalanced and shallow big screen debut.

To the uninitiated, MacFarlane is the creative mind behind Family Guy and its spin-off shows American Dad and The Cleveland Show. In Ted, there is no mistaking MacFarlane's particular brand of comedy, both in the irreverent content and well-timed delivery of its humour. Ted opens by telling the story of a small boy, John Bennett, who on Christmas night wishes for his new teddy bear to come to life. Miraculously, his wish comes true, and John and Ted, as he names the bear, become overnight celebrities. However, as Patrick Stewart's narrator informs us in a reference-dropping introduction typical of MacFarlane, 'No matter how big a splash you make in this world, whether you're  Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, Justin Bieber or a talking teddy bear, eventually, nobody gives a shit'. The credits roll, and we skip ahead several decades where both boy and bear have (ostensibly) grown up. The premise is thus: perpetual man-boy lacks the motivation to grow up and A) progress his career, B) show his commitment to his long-suffering girlfriend in *apparently the only way women characters can ever understand or expect* by proposing to her, and most crucially, C) ditch his loveable but loser buddy. The novelty of course is that that the main character's buddy is a magic, foul-mouthed, over-sexed teddy bear in an otherwise mundane and realistic world. However, magic bear or no magic bear, it's an incredibly familiar set up, and the plot trundles along at a very predictable rhythm hitting all the story beats you'd expect, with the inevitable second-act conflict practically telegraphed by flashing neon signs. It's a shame, because by confining itself to such formulaic rom-com plotting, the film is never fully allowed to explore the comic potential of having a foul-mouthed celebrity teddy bear running riot. 

Ted  proves a crude but likeable comic creation
In many ways, Ted reminded me of last year's Paul, with its similar pot-smoking, expletive spewing fictional ragamuffin. Paul also stuck pretty closely to formula, but where the road trip / FBI hunt plot of that film sat well with the sci-fi comedy premise, the rom-com foundation of Ted just seems to intrude on the comedy, which at times nears hilarity, but all too often feels held back by its own self-imposed restrictions. That's not to say there aren't plenty of jokes: they come thick and fast and in many varieties; sight gags, expletive-laden banter, the inevitable pop-culture references, and in the film's funniest moment, an inspired, brilliantly edited sequence in which John races to meet his cinematic childhood idol. It's in breathless moments like these where Ted really catches fire, unconcerned by the tedious trials of John and Lori's relationship, allowing itself to get on with the business of being funny. In a film with deeper characters, the central conflict of John's inability to grow up and commit to Lori might work better, but depth of character has never been one of MacFarlane's strong suits. That shortcoming never been more apparent than here, in which the humour does little to distract from the dearth of multi-dimensional characters. Factor in a pointless sub-plot about an obsessive father and son desperate to get their creepy mitts on Ted, inserted in order to provide an undercooked climactic kidnapping / chase scene which leads to the film's muddled finale, and large portions of the film feel contrived and rote. Make no mistake, there is much humour to be had, but most of it centres around the one-note premise of a teddy bear that swears a lot. This no doubt will delight the film's intended teenage audience, but there are also a few too many badly misjudged jokes tending towards the racial and homophobic (a tiresome mainstay of MacFarlane's stable). Having said that, by the time the final credits roll fans of Family Guy are guaranteed to be grinning, but very few of Ted's scenarios really deliver the subversive humour or scenes of outrageous debauchery that the central premise promises us.
John and Ted: Thunderbuddies for life 
On a minor note, the performances from Wahlberg and Kunis are serviceable but fairly pefunctory, while Seth MacFarlane invests Ted with life and humour. Consequently the chemistry between the bear and Wahlberg fizzes much more convincingly than the other relationship in John's life. It seems odd to bring up an issue as technical as this for a comedy, but Ted is one of the most egregious offenders I've yet witnessed of the Curse of the Orange and Teal Colour Scheme . The entire film is soaked in virtually only these two colours, making the visuals very ugly. When photography is so generic that you can apply it with equal, dispassionate excess to both action films and romantic comedies, it's time to reign it in, chaps. 

For a debut feature, Ted is a perfectly serviceable, and on occasion, very funny comedy. In the eponymous bear, MacFarlane has crafted a very likeable and enjoyable comic character, and many scenes replicate his TV-based humour at its best and most irreverent. Fans of MacFarlane's previous work are certain to be satisfied, even delighted with MacFarlane's first feature, but Ted's strengths are tempered by the fact that it repeats many of Family Guy et al's mistakes, with a bland and uninteresting central story populated with  clich├ęd supporting characters, topped by two relatively likeable but ultimately boring paper-thin leads. 

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