Whether or not you’ll enjoy Seth MacFarlane’s Ted depends on a number of things but the most important might be what you mean when you say a film is good. If you mean that you like a film that is crafted with some measure of skill, you might find things to appreciate. If, however, you require a film’s content to be enjoyable or otherwise interesting, you’ll find yourself facing an uphill battle.
Ted is the story of a man named John who, as a lonely eight-year-old boy, received a large teddy bear for Christmas. That plush toy, named Ted, magically came to life and pledged to be John’s lifelong friend. After a brief stint as a celebrity sensation (he was a talking teddy bear, after all), Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) has spent most of the ensuing 27 years remaining the best friend of John (Mark Walhberg), growing along with him in some ways but essentially anchoring him to juvenilia and validating his extant adolescent impulses.
MacFarlane makes his debut as a feature film director and is surprisingly adept at it. Given that he’s made his name in animation, he takes easily to the live-action format. His compositions and editing are considered without being ostentatious. And, unlike many mainstream comedies, Ted is not a series of set-pieces and sketches haphazardly strung together in the general shape of a motion picture. MacFarlane is actually telling a story here using thought-out sequences that build upon one another. Most remarkably, a hotel room brawl between John and Ted when things in the friendship get tense is both believable and brutal, not to mention more than a little funny.
To the extent that Ted works, it’s due to Wahlberg. His notable chemistry with the CGI bear is enough to make you forget that Ted is clearly a CGI bear. Wahlberg has always been at his best playing good-natured dopes (Three Kings, The Fighter) and John fits that bill exquisitely. His overall wide-eyed pleasantness not only makes the case for why his girlfriend (Mila Kunis) keeps taking him back, it even makes the awful jokes MacFarlane has written nearly forgivable.
If it seems that this review is positive so far, that’s because the things that make this a bad movie – overpowering though they may be – are rather simple. Mainly, it’s just not funny. Not only is it not funny, it’s unfunny. The better part of a decade ago, when someone like a Sarah Silverman was ironically racist in her act, the surprise of it was enough to make it worthwhile (if not exactly hilarious). All these years later, the irony part of such an approach has lost all usefulness. Making racist jokes isn’t shocking anymore. It’s just racist. That’s especially true when there isn’t even a real joke to speak of. Someone should tell MacFarlane that the word “Jew” isn’t a punchline in and of itself. Also, someone should give him the news that women are allowed to be funny. It’s insulting and embarrassingly old-fashioned to cast as capable a comedic actress as Mila Kunis and not allow her any laughs; to, in fact, make repeated jokes out of the premise that she is unable to keep up with her male counterparts’ back and forth repartee.
Those are just examples of the main problem, really, which is that the film is stale. For the most part, these jokes have been made. What’s more, this story has been told. Thematically (and I do at least respect MacFarlane for caring about his theme), this is something we’ve been seeing for years now. Ted is the manifestation of John’s inability to grow up even when doing so would earn him a rewarding romantic and professional life. Judd Apatow made his cinematic name with that outline. MacFarlane may regurgitate it skillfully but the execution is hollow and pointless.
So if you want to see competent work from a filmmaker who could likely make something interesting out of someone else’s screenplay, perhaps Ted is for you. But if you are seeking something that could be described as watchable, you’d do well to skip it.