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Friday, Jan. 4, 2013

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Forever friends: John (Mark Wahlberg) indulges in a little bonding time with his stuffed pal in "Ted," directed by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane (who also voices the bear). © 2012 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


MacFarlane presents comedy of the 'bearest' sophistication

Comedian Seth MacFarlane is best known for his animated TV sitcom "Family Guy," which basically attempted to outdo "South Park" in its politically incorrect, outrageous humor. At its best, "Family Guy" has a great sense of the absurd — just recall a certain ornithological episode involving a lost 1960s pop tune — and at its worst, sophomoric humor of the "Dude, I can't believe you said that!" variety.

Ted Rating: (2.5 out of 5)
Three's a crowd: Ted joins John on a date with Lori (Mila Kunis).

Director: Seth MacFarlane
Running time: 106 minutes
Language: English
Opens Jan. 18, 2013
[See Japan Times movie listing]

For his big-screen debut, "Ted," MacFarlane has opted for far more of the latter. The premise is pure MacFarlane, taking the twee cuteness of a children's fable — a boy and his teddy bear who comes magically to life — and souring it by having both boy and bear grow up to become foul-mouthed, substance-abusing and hopelessly dysfunctional adults.

The boy, John Bennett (played by Mark Wahlberg), is a going-nowhere-fast loser who barely manages to keep his job at a car-rental agency, but somehow has managed to land smart and beautiful Lori (Mila Kunis) as his girlfriend. She is constantly encouraging him to get his life together, as women are wont to do in these bromantic comedies, but John would rather spend his time with his plush buddy Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), who is constantly enabling his worst behavior, like getting wasted before work and smashing into a parked car.

Basically, this is a Seth Rogen movie with the Rogen character being a teddy bear, a one-joke movie that rivals "Bad Santa" in its tediousness. The cute little bear whose recorded voice would say "I wuv you" grows up to be a beer-swilling, porn-watching, F-bomb-dropping dude, and he can't stand the idea of a girl impinging on his bong-smoking evenings watching cheesy B-movie rentals with John.

Kunis cerainly knows how to handle comedy — see "Friends With Benefits" and of course "Family Guy" — and Wahlberg can do it in a pinch ("I Heart Huckabees"), so with Giovanni Ribisi showing up in creepy talking-bear stalker-fan mode, how can this possibly misfire?

The answer begins with MacFarlane himself: The character he's created for Ted uses the exact same nasal New England voice he created for Peter Griffin in "Family Guy," and the lack of inspiration flows downhill from there.

Typical scene: John comes home from a heavy fourth-anniversary dinner with Lori only to find Ted sitting on the couch surrounded by cheap hookers, one of whom has taken a dump on the floor. If you're not already rolling on the floor at the very idea of teddy bear hanging with hoes, then it won't get any better. Probably half of the film's jokes are related to bodily functions or parts, and the rest are generally based on (mostly '80s) pop-cultural references, from Tom Selleck to "Flash Gordon."

MacFarlane's humor, especially when in the anti-Semitic vein, still bears the frat-boy stench of real prejudice covered up by a "We jes' havin' fun with ya" chuckle. When Ted refers to Norah Jones (playing herself) as a "hot half-Muslim chick," followed up by "Thanks for 9/11," it's interesting to note that the first joke MacFarlane could come up with involved Jones' skin color. Stuffy political correctness certainly deserves to get its buttons pushed a bit, but Sacha Baron Cohen does a much better job of it. MacFarlane's parodies of dumb-ass racism/sexism are too often indistinguishable from the real thing.

Of course, this is now the top-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, in the United States at least, so what do I know? Offensive humor has always done well, from Lenny Bruce through "Animal House" and "There's Something About Mary." MacFarlane is on the cutting edge for this generation, but he can and has done better than "Ted," which works best with too many beers and low expectations.

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