Here we have it — our first serious contender for worst movie of the year. For those of you who love Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy and American Dad, then I’ll go ahead and tell you that you’ll probably love his feature debut Ted. This is also where you can stop reading, because you’re not getting much else out of this review.
Ted is a one-joke premise revolving around a lonely kid named John Bennett who’s in desperate need of a friend, so he wishes his favorite stuffed bear, Ted, into existence. After Ted’s short-lived fame in the ‘80s for simply being a anthropomorphic stuffed bear, we find John (Mark Walhberg) and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) in the present day. John’s in a dead-end job and spends his free time — despite having a beautiful, successful longtime girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) — getting stoned with the now vulgar, foul-mouthed, sexually deviant Ted. The plot doesn’t kick in until Lori demands that 35-year-old John put away his childish things by ditching Ted and finally growing up.
That’s the story, but the real idea of the film is the supposed inherent hilarity of watching a pothead CGI teddy bear say offensive, crude, uncouth things. And that’s it. You could literally trade Ted for any number of objects — a toaster, an elephant, an armchair, Jonah Hill — and have nearly the exact same movie. This is a run-of-the-mill arrested development buddy comedy, with a concept behind it that’s already been done decades ago. The idea of shocking audiences by putting vulgarities in the realm of a child’s doll or stuffed animal is an old hat. Peter Jackson covered this territory 23 years ago with Meet the Feebles. Hell, there are five Chucky films, and writer Don Mancini actually had Chucky melt John Waters’ face in one of them. Of course, none of this would matter if Ted were actually funny. The jokes are a grab bag of dick jokes, fart jokes (so many fart jokes), casual racism, casual homophobia, and a small dollop of rape humor. I’d be offended if I could work up the energy to care about this damned stupid, fetid pile of moose dung.
Most confounding of all is MacFarlane’s stunted view of pop culture, which would be easier to handle if the man didn’t insist on shoehorning in — much like his TV efforts — random pop culture references at every turn. If you want to throw around the phrase “irrelevance” in a critical context, let’s start with MacFarlane, a man whose frame of reference began around 1977 and died somewhere in 1989, with his film’s nods toward Tiffany and a large dose of Mark Hodges’ awful Flash Gordon (1980). The only time he escapes from this bubble is when he takes toothless potshots at today’s roster of forgettable pop stars — acting like a man who fills his TV shows and movie with lounge music, and whose critical acumen never rises above the childlike level of “This sucks!” The man is hardly qualified to be an arbiter of taste.
Somehow worse than all of this, his references aren’t even aimed at humor. Pop culture references only work when you care about them in the first place, and you get an idea and feeling of the person making the reference. In the case of his constant mentions of Star Wars, they exist more as a smug wink to fellow nerds — an attempt at evoking a strange fanboy orthodoxism, like a secret handshake where shared interests take the place of jokes and effort. It’s a bad math equation, where if you like Star Wars and Seth MacFarlane likes Star Wars then you should also like Ted by proxy. It’s odd and lazy, and means MacFarlane’s essentially made a really hacky Kevin Smith movie, that lacks Smith’s heart and — surprisingly — his nuance or tact. Please, give me Clerks 2 and its beastiality any day of the week. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use.