Creator Seth McFarlane has achieved success comparable to South Park and the Simpsons. Alongside his TV shows, he has carved out a career as a hugely accomplished voice actor, which got him a role on Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy 2 as Johann Kraus. Now in 2012, he has added another string to his bow with his directorial début, Ted.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, and the vocal talents of McFarlane is Ted, the story of John Bennett and his best friend. Ted isn’t just any best friend he is a Teddy bear that was brought to life by the wish of a lonely child one Christmas. 20-something years later, Ted (McFarlane) and John (Wahlberg) are still best friends who spend their time watching movies, getting stoned and messing around. All to the annoyance of John’s girlfriend Lori (Kunis), who has had enough of her boyfriend’s immaturity, inevitably she gives John the ultimatum of choosing between herself and Ted.
The truth of the matter is the story couldn’t have less value. The unique selling point of Ted is that this is a Seth McFarlane film; millions of fans will be making the trip to the cinema to see the same sense of humour as Family Guy, American Dad and the Cleveland Show. Even if that wasn’t the selling point, the story is of little significance. Although stylistically a fable, it treads the ground of the bromance where a friendship is broken up by a ‘meddlesome’ woman, and ultimately the characters learn something about themselves and the importance of the people in their life.
Funnily enough, the same could be said of his TV work, many of his episodes are thin premises to hang the comedy. Keeping in touch with the TV ties, there is a B-story, which traditionally is there to add further meaning to the central narrative through line, or just to give the other characters something to do. Here if feels like a tool to pad out the running time as the obsessive father strand with Giovanni Ribisi adds nothing to the film but time and the under-rated actors’ awkward energy.
Far from a strong début, it’s the comedy that decides whether it is sink or swim for McFarlane. As far as the international market is concerned, Seth McFarlane (or Fuzzy Door) productions are among the best of a small group of shows. There is also the argument that because his day job is in animation he can get away with a lot more, because no matter how offensive his jokes may be they are being delivered by a baby, a talking dog or maybe even an Alien. As a movie, Ted has no such comfort zone. Even though comedy is entirely subjective, it does very little to differentiate itself in an over-crowded market. Those jokes that would be fine on TV become mean-spirited without the animated avatars, especially the gags about 9/11 and the Chinese stereotype. It would be one thing if these mean-spirited digs where crude enough to be offensive, but they aren’t they’re boring.
It would be churlish to condemn Ted as a comedy without laughs; nay it would be a lie. There are a good few laughs scattered around the 106 minute running time. Those being the job interview, Flash Gordon, the Thunder Buddies song, the aftermath of the prostitute scene, an airplane! reference and a kid getting punched in the face. For many that might be enough, especially when each of those moments was accompanied by a belly laugh. However, anybody familiar with McFarlane’s style will know that he champions rapid-fire jokes and pop culture references and for that approach to jump to the big screen and to only get 6 laughs, it simply isn’t enough. Even the ever reliable Patrick Stewart’s silly narration didn’t help.
The writing might be erratic at best, but as a director and a technical exercise Ted should be applauded. Take the titular character, McFarlane’s voice work is as exemplary as ever. Then there’s the technology, not once did it occur that the actors were talking to a tennis ball for an eye-line, the enchanted Teddy bear has a presence in the world. A fight scene is a melting point of technical prowess and burgeoning directing talent. A talent that makes great use of his cast, with Wahlberg on fine comedic form, as is Kunis even if she rarely gets the opportunity to be as funny as the boys.
Strengths, weaknesses and wasted opportunities aside, Ted suggests great promise. If Seth McFarlane can differentiate himself like he has in the TV market, he may make something appreciated by a more diverse audience than the Family Guy fan base. This is precisely how to sell Ted, for fans of Family Guy.