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Review: 'Ted' is crude but just cuddly enough

Seth MacFarlane brings 'Family Guy's' crudeness and pop culture cleverness to the big screen. Mark Wahlberg's lug adds sweetness. Mila Kunis also stars.

June 28, 2012|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • "Ted" is the story of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a man who must deal with the cherished teddy bear who came to life as the result of a childhood wish.
"Ted" is the story of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a man who… (Universal Pictures )

Thanks to"Ted,"the riotous, ribald new RRR-rated comedy about a pot-smoking, sexually active, trash-talking stuffed bear, brown is the new blue. So be forewarned, stuff gets wanton, and fresh vegetables are involved.

Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and a fouled-mouthed plush toy named Ted, voiced by the film's writer-director, Seth MacFarlane, comprise the warm and fuzzy love triangle at the center of the raucous rudeness. The story itself is about a boy and a bear in Boston who have refused to grow up, and the girlfriend who has run out of patience. It's the, ahem, embellishments that make the film unique. If there is misbehaving to be done, and there is a lot of it, you can bet a bear is involved. The comic targets run the gamut — race, religion, relationships, reality, etc. While nothing is sacred, the sacrilege comes with just enough sweetness to offset the salt.

The main gag is, no shock here, the motion-capture creature Ted. He's born of a Christmas wish in 1985 when a young John Bennett (Brett Manley, Wahlberg is the grown-up version), awkward and friendless, wishes that the teddy bear Santa brought him would come to life. Wish granted and almost overnight not only is Ted his new best friend, he's a mega star making the rounds on the celebrity circuit. Until he isn't. That is where the story really kicks in. (MacFarlane, best known for creating the animated TV hit "Family Guy," shares script credit with two other writers from the show, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.)

Flash-forward 30 years. Ted is a hard-partying has-been with a bong always close at hand, and John is a never-was in a dead-end job at a car rental place. But they still have each other, which is part of the problem. The issue is adulthood — why should anyone get serious about life when there's weed to be smoked and Flash Gordon saving the day on some cable channel? But there is the matter of John's smartly turned out girlfriend, Lori (Kunis). Four years into a relationship with John, Lori demands that he choose. It's either the babe or the bear, with a lot of breakups and makeups and mayhem before that gets resolved.

Until now, MacFarlane's brand of humor has been primarily showcased on his various animated series. His first and best remains "Family Guy," which just wrapped its 10th season on Fox. A lot of what is good about the show has found its way into "Ted." The pop culture cleverness is there, the general lack of decorum most certainly is. Brian, the show's erudite martini-sipping dog, is what Ted might have become had he gotten an Ivy League education. As it is, Ted himself sounds like a wasted version of Peter Griffin, the good-hearted blue-collar dolt of a dad in "Family Guy," a character also voiced by MacFarlane. Other "Family Guy" family members turn up in the film, most prominently Kunis, who has voiced the Griffins' misfit teen Meg from the beginning.

Jumping into the no-holds-barred world of R-rated movies freed MacFarlane to push the profane to his heart's content. He does. It also gives him a chance to prove that he is as adept at working with real flesh and blood actors as animated figures. He is. It happens that he's even better when blending both worlds — at some point, it is possible to forget than Ted is a plush toy, until the next time he gets involved in some highly inappropriate "manly" pursuit.

To help blur those lines, everything in "Ted's" universe has been designed to work equally well for man and beast. There are man-size and toy-size urinals, the suits are made to fit, conversations are mostly eye-to-eye, sex is somehow possible if not very pretty. Though he's only 2 feet 6 (just a guess), Ted claims his own piece of the screen. One of the film's natural highs comes in a knock-down, drag-out fight with John, a remarkable bit of choreographed rumbling and tumbling brought to bruising, believable life. Michael Barrett as the director of photography and Blair Clark supervising visual effects do a bang-up job all around.

Now to the sweetness. Wahlberg, for all the toughness in many of his roles — his comeback boxer in"The Fighter,"his score-settling detective in"The Departed"— has a lovable lug-ishness about him. It is very much on display here. Though Ted is a constant complication for John, he never intends to cause problems. The guys really are best friends, and weirdly, you can feel the love.

There are times when the jokes verge on the sour, or even rancid. Even for "Ted," Giovanni Ribisi's sick stalker type is twisted, and some of the bits are too raw. But mostly "Ted" is a very guilty pleasure stuffed with so many sly cultural references and sardonic cameos, it's tough to catch them all, but it's fun trying. To fully appreciate "Ted," it's best to simply forgive its bad behavior upfront and save any apologies for liking it until later. Sorry.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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