Skip navigation

Ten Words or Less Review: A love letter to Flash Gordon.

The bromance conventions get a thorough going over by TV mega-producer Seth McFarlane in his first feature.  It’s taken well over a decade for the critic antagonizing TV magnate to finally break into movies.  Many feared the day would come when the obnoxious, pop culture, super geek would bring his tactless, cut away obsessed humor to multiplexes.  As Family Guy grinds on forever and viewers continue to be scared by American Dad I think these fears were well founded.  It turns out though the only person who should really live in fear of MacFarlane’s first directorial effort is Jason Segal.  Why?  His bread and butter movie role has been perfected by a CGI bear.  Seth Rogen should also consider his career in jeopardy.

When John, an unpopular little Boston boy, gets a huge teddy bear for Christmas he makes a wish for his stuffed mate to come to life.  The power of this wish proves strong enough to make it come true and the next morning this cute, lovable toy is walking and talking on his own.  Cue obscenity laced, parental freak-out.   The whole world losses its shit in fact.  Ted, as John names him, becomes an overnight celebrity but eventually, as narrator Patrick Stewart tells us in his best fairy tale tone, no one gives a shit and life moves on.  Fast forward 25 years and John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted are still inseparable.  John’s got a great girlfriend in Lori (Mila Kunis), a mediocre job (car rental employee) and his pot smoking, foul mouthed teddy bear always at his side.  Lori wants John to put down the bong, propose, hang out with Ted a little less and grow up just a bit.  But it’s hard to grow up when your best friend is a hooker loving teddy bear with a fun loving personality.

Movies about men stuck in perpetual adolescence are nothing new, Fellini made movies with this theme, but they’ve become a constant staple of megaplexes in the past 10 years.  This kind of flick has made stars out of actors like Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen, amiable schlub types who until this century wondered the cinematic wasteland like unwanted vagrants.  MacFarlane doesn’t stretch or reinvent this type of movie so much as give it his distinct coat of tasteless paint, that coming in the form of insanely odd pop culture jokes and Ted the bear.  Ted as a character is such an amusing creation of endearing vulgarity that one easily forgets we’ve run through this scenario many times before.  He’s a better version of what Simon Pegg went for in last year’s mostly miss comedy Paul.  That dopey feature had Seth Rogen voicing a CGI alien.  I can still hear one joke after another from that movie bombing.  Ted though is a gimmick idea made successful character through great CG and excellent joke writing.  MacFarlane may be a hack most days but he can write a tasteless, spot-on piece of  obscenity better than anyone.  It helps that he indulges in his weirdest pop culture fetishes, audience understanding be damned.  There’s an obsessive run of jokes about the 1980 bomb sci-fi flick Flash Gordon,  it’s leading man Sam Jones, Top Gun character actor Tom Skerritt and singer Norah Jones.  I suggest boning up on the old Flash movie if you want to get the whole range of jokes on display.

MacFarlane as director turns out to have a deft hand with actors and technology.  He seamlessly integrates the CGI performance of Ted with Mark Wahlberg creating one of the hardest things to do when CGI characters are at play, create actual chemistry.  There’s no feeling of barrier between the two or sensation that Wahlberg is starring at no one or nothing when he’s with Ted.  The whole movie would have died if that had happened.  The two have a fight scene that while ridiculous, is so convincingly brutal it will probably mortify young kids foolishly lead into the theater by dimwitted parents who think this is a kids movie.  Doubling the sense of accomplishment is MacFarlane’s successful use of Mark Wahlberg as something more than a prop holder.  The former leader of the Funky Bunch can sink a movie in the wrong hands if he’s given little or no direction.  No lead actor working today seems harder to peg than this frequent star of bland action movies (Shooter, Max Payne, Contraband) and embarrassing dramas (The Lovely Bones, The Happening).  But he can do admirable work when he’s allowed to play genial (Boogie Nights), humorous (The Other Guys) and down to Earth (The Fighter).  Wahlberg also has a great give and take with Mila Kunis.  Too often the romantic relationships between actors in comedy can feel like they’re taking place between people two who just met, but the duo have an effortless give and take.  Kunis, with help from MacFarlane’s saavy screenplay, avoids the traps of a role like this which could be easily twisted to make her into the demanding, bitchy girlfriend.

As well put together and executed much of Ted is, like a drunk behind the wheel of a sports car it nearly wrecks itself two blocks from home.  MacFarlane’s screenplay works too hard to flesh out John, Lori and Ted.  At 110+ minutes Ted really could use some trimming down and it’s easy to see where.  A subplot about an obsessed fan (Giovanni Ribisi) of Ted is achingly bad, out of place and eventually leads the movie into a dreadful climax.  It’s a 20 minute detour into derivative, chase movie crap no one needs to see.  When this part kicks in I suggest stepping out for a bathroom break and coming back after a nice long talk with the usher about other movies playing.

Lousy ending aside Ted is the best studio comedy of the year to date.  It’s rooted in a traditional story we all know but executed with a spry sensibility that could lead one to believe Seth MacFarlane is an actual storyteller.  Maybe behind the annoying producer of the well past its prime Family Guy lies a genuinely talented filmmaker.  Any guy who can pull off a sex scene with a teddy bear and make a viewer nostalgic for a tragically bad science fiction movie from 30 years ago must have some degree of movie making skill.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: