ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE BAD NEWS TEDDY BEAR

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By Brian Lafferty

 

June 29, 2012 (San Diego) – The average person would likely perceive teddy bears as cute, innocent, and sentimental toys. What about someone with a devilishly twisted sense of humor like Seth MacFarlane?

 

John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is thirty-five and in a tenuous four-year relationship with his girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). Twenty-seven years earlier, he wished for his teddy bear to come alive, a wish granted courtesy of a streaking comet. His teddy bear, Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane, who sounds way too much like his Family Guy characters Peter Griffin and Brian), is a horny, pot-smoking partier. Their friendship and carefree ways threaten John's relationship with the exasperated Lori. Meanwhile a nutty and creepy father (Giovanni Ribisi), becomes fixated on Ted and wants to have him for himself and his son.

 

The screenplay, co-written by MacFarlane and a pair of his Family Guy colleagues, somehow manages to be simultaneously messy and formulaic. The structuring of the script's numerous plots isn't so much random, as much as unevenly and oddly imbalanced. The script sometimes spends considerable time on one plot, then briefly on another, then a long time on another, and so on. The narrative plays like the screenplay was rushed and the writers had to do a major, yet unfinished, restructuring and polishing job. The individual plots may be haphazardly placed, but they follow to the letter the established "rules" that how-to screenplay manuals dictate to neophyte writers.

 

Even more awkward than the story structure is the dialogue. Pop culture references are a major component of Seth MacFarlane's humor. When smoothly integrated into comedic dialogue, it can add a layer of humor that average viewers may find funny, but audiences familiar with the subjects referenced will appreciate and find funnier on a deeper and rewarding level.

 

MacFarlane gives all the pop culture references to Ted. I got many, if not all, of the references, but I didn't laugh or feel rewarded for having known them. The references sound like they exist to test audiences on how much in tune they are with film and TV history. They are so desperately penciled in that they routinely disrupt the timing. Even worse, whenever Ted speaks, a grating know-it-all subtext arises that says MacFarlane is trying to be too smart.

 

Even the basic jokes failed to make me laugh. Some of them are hateful and even homophobic. In one scene, John hugs Ted and inadvertently pushes the bear's button that says in his childlike voice, "I love you." Ted recoils, worrying that whoever might have heard it might think he's gay. John assures him it’s fine.

 

At the risk of sounding like I’m pro-political correctness, in my opinion there are certain things that should not be mocked.  Any joke that demeans gays will not get a laugh from me.

 

As unfunny as I found Ted, I applaud MacFarlane for at least trying something unique. It’s unfortunate such an intriguing premise was squandered by a raunchy premium-channel sitcom mentality, offensive humor, and an inability to do anything meaningful with it beyond a streamline of lame jokes.

 

Think about it. A grown man and an actual living, breathing teddy bear. A teddy bear that happens to be horny, vulgar, and every bit the last thing the average person would envisage a cuddly childhood toy. Imagine the comedic possibilities waiting to be explored. If only Seth MacFarlane did.

 

D+

 

Ted is now playing in wide release.

 


A Universal Pictures release. Director: Seth MacFarlane. Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild. Original Music: Walter Murphy. Cinematography: Michael Barrett. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Joel McHale, and Giovanni Ribisi. 106 minutes. Rated R.

 


Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at brian@eastcountymagazine.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.