Home Entertainment Movie Review: For Better or Worse, TED Is Just Like “Family Guy”

Movie Review: For Better or Worse, TED Is Just Like “Family Guy”

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I guess it\’s accurate enough that “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane\’s called his first live-action feature film Ted.  After all, the film centers on a foul-mouthed, Boston-accented teddy bear named Ted (MacFarlane), so Ted equals Ted and it all makes a lot of sense, from a marketing standpoint.

That said, MacFarlane could have called his movie Family Guy Except with a Talking Stuffed Animal and been just as accurate.  We\’re looking at three dimensions instead of two, and I don\’t remember Mark Wahlberg ever popping up on the animated version (feel free to bash me in the comments if I\’m wrong), but other than that, Ted is the equivalent of five-and-a-half “Family Guy” episodes stitched together to make a feature-length movie.  Both glorify idiot man-children romantically involved with women far better/smarter/more compassionate than they will ever be.  Both partner Said Man-children with creatures who are inexplicably capable of human speech and behavior (a dog, a teddy bear).  Both take place in New England.  Both revel in the scatological and the profane.  Squint a little, and Joel McHale\’s sleazy lothario looks and sounds just like “Family Guy\’s” merkin-wearing car salesman, while Giovanni Ribisi\’s bizarre single dad could be “Family Guy\’s” notorious pedophile Herbert at age forty.

I can do this all day.  “Family Guy” stars the vocal talents of Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Mila Kunis, Patrick Warburton, Mike Henry, Ralph Garman, Tara Strong, and John Viener, all of whom pop up in Ted (Warburton takes top honors, as he often does, as a bank clerk who remains hilariously nonchalant despite huge revelations about his drinking habits and sexuality).  Assisting MacFarlane with the Ted script are “Family Guy” staff writers Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin, and “Family Guy\’s” Emmy-nominated composer Walter Murphy handles the music duties here as well.  Not to belabor the point, but Ted even shares “Family Guy\’s” deep and enduring love of Patrick Stewart: a very good thing indeed.

Basically, Seth MacFarlane is firmly in his comfort zone for this one, and when Ted is working, you can\’t blame him.  Like “Family Guy,” Ted excels at the brutal, unexpected laugh and goes after it any way it can, logic and coherence be dammed.  There are a couple of celebrity cameos that Ted uses to almost Dadaist-ends, including the one at the film\’s centerpiece, which finds Wahlberg and Ted coked out and misbehaving under the deranged guidance of Flash Gordon star Sam Jones.  We even get a vintage “Family Guy”-style pop culture cutaway: Wahlberg\’s hapless protagonist remembers his first dance with on-screen squeeze Mila Kunis as identical to the Robert Hays/Julie Hagerty disco scene from Airplane.

Ted himself might be a stuffed version of Brian with Peter Griffin\’s voice (a fact MacFarlane has the character oh-so-postmodernly reference late in the movie), but he\’s funny all the same, tearing into the very R-rated material with aplomb.  A little of this goes a long way – I could have used a little less of Ted smoking pot or screwing his white-trash girlfriend (Jessica Barth) as an inadvertent job promotion strategy – but MacFarlane actually gives Ted some layers.  I love how MacFarlane treats this talking teddy bear the same way one might regard Corey Feldman or Justin Bieber (so, with great enthusiasm at the onset, followed by crushing indifference), and how he makes sure that Ted\’s connection to Wahlberg\’s John Bennett is a real, palpable thing.  They both need each other more than anyone else on the planet, and their relationship keeps Ted from becoming a stale, abrasive cartoon.

Here the problem: in “Family Guy,” you have to take the bad with the good; so it goes with Ted.  For every joke that connects, one or two just dies on the vine.  “Family Guy” has the benefit of the twenty-two-minute runtime – even if half the jokes don\’t play in a given episode, the whole thing is over and done with in under a half an hour.  Ted, however, runs 107 minutes (114 minutes in the Blu-ray unrated cut), and half of that is noticeably unfunny, as in, stops trying to be funny.  Ted\’s last forty-some minutes vacillate uncomfortably between maudlin sentiments (as John and Ted break up) and – I kid you not – thriller mechanics (as Ribisi\’s unhinged psycho kidnaps Ted), and MacFarlane seems to want you to take both tropes seriously because he certainly doesn\’t provide enough humor to leaven the clichés.  What was an enjoyably junky comedy starts getting delusions of grandeur, and I couldn\’t imagine a greater miscalculation on MacFarlane\’s part.

At the end of the movie, MacFarlane rights his course with a very funny “Where Are They Now” montage addressing his characters\’ ultimate fates.  Correction: he rights things until the very end of the sequence, when he tosses in a destined-to-be-dated-in-fifteen-minutes reference to Taylor Lautner.  Like everything in Ted, the gag wouldn\’t be out of place on “Family Guy,” and maybe that\’s the problem.  If Seth MacFarlane is ever going to grow as a filmmaker, he needs to escape the shadow of his creation, or else he risks letting its flaws doom him.

Universal\’s Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet combo pack is pretty solid, all things considered.  The HD picture is sharp and clean, and the film also gets a bouncy and robust 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track.

Supplements are decent, if a little light.  In addition to the unrated cut (which isn\’t that much naughtier than the theatrical version), the Blu-ray has a commentary from MacFarlane, Wahlberg, and Alec Sulkin on the theatrical cut; a decent gag reel with some good alternate jokes; a whole reel of alternate takes; a twenty-three-minute behind-the-scenes documentary; a featurette on how MacFarlane and his team pulled off the one-on-one brawl between Ted and Wahlberg; and some deleted scenes.

When Ted is good, it is very good.  Here\’s the thing: it\’s as bad as often as it is good.  Call it the “Family Guy” curse.

Ted streets on December 11th.  Click HERE for Amazon\’s listing.