Seth MacFarlane puts the "R" in Toys R Us with Ted, the not-so-tender story of a fuzzy-wuzzy teddy bear and the man-child who loves him.
Ted talks, and should have his mouth washed out with soap. He walks, occasionally staggering from too much booze, pot or cocaine. Ted gives hugs, preferably to hookers. Charlie Sheen would have a tough time keeping up.
So does Ted's lifelong playmate John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), who started this fantasy with a lonely child's falling star wish for friendship, and perpetuates it with bro-speak and bong hits. Like many males in movie comedies, John needs to put away childish things but the little guy is too much smutty fun.
Using the Family Guy formula provoking TV morality watchdogs, MacFarlane makes a brazen debut as a (mostly) live-action feature filmmaker. Breaking free of FCC guidelines suits him; you can sense MacFarlane giggling at getting away with vulgarities that would be bleeped, if not excised by network censors. What sneaks by them gets blown to bizarre proportions in this medium.
Start with the bear. MacFarlane's TV humor relies upon snide remarks and pop culture snark from the animated mouths of babies, dogs and goldfish. Ted is an expansion of the rule, a minor CGI marvel with MacFarlane's voice uncorking a relentless barrage of homophobic, xenophobic, racist, sexist and/or downright nasty comments. The usually harmless source is what makes the offensiveness funny; Ted delivers the gags with a straight face since teddy bears don't have any other expression.
John's girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) hasn't minded sharing him with Ted but four years is long enough. Either the bear goes or she does. For the first time Ted strikes out on his own, getting an apartment and a job where the more obscenely he behaves the faster he's promoted. Meanwhile, a creepy dude (Giovanni Ribisi) wants Ted for his son's unsavory pleasure, and Lori's creepier boss (Joel McHale) is pressing her for a date.
The more Ted proceeds, the more it structurally resembles an episode of Family Guy or any other pop-savvy animated satire. The difference is that MacFarlane can get the real Ted Danson to disparage Woody Harrelson's manhood, or Norah Jones confessing a sexual encounter with Ted and desire for another, rather than drawing them. John's memory of meeting Lori mimics an Airplane! spoof of Saturday Night Fever just as Homer Simpson's might.
Some jokes are deliriously constructed, like a coked-up sequence concerning Ted and John's Flash Gordon fetish, with '80s star Sam Jones pulling a Neil Patrick Harris on his image. Just as many throwaway gags are bound to make someone squirm: gay jokes and 9/11 wisecracks, or insults directed at Jews, Asians, Iranians and the obese. MacFarlane's movie runs longer than the material remains shocking, as a sitcom refugee can be expected to do. But it's often convulsively funny, and that's what MacFarlane's fans expect.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.