By Michael Phillips 2016-04-22

Tribune Newspapers Critic

2 stars

Like "The Hangover" and its sequel, "Ted" is a bully of a comedy but a bully with just enough calculated heart to make it a hit. It plays like a movie tryout for a TV series, specifically a Seth MacFarlane series, which means a high quotient of startlingly crude ethnic and cultural stereotypes leavened by a sincere appreciation for American popular music of another era.

The movie's soundtrack promises old-time sentiment and heartfelt pathos, with a little swing. The jokes, meantime, depend on how many R-rated synonyms there are for a woman's vagina, as spoken by a plush toy.

As a boy, young John grows up in a Boston suburb where beating up Jews for Christmas is an annual pastime. (Compare this joke to the one at the beginning of "Borat." One is dubious; the other one, in "Borat," is inspired.) John wishes upon a star for a friend to call his own. His teddy bear becomes a talking teddy bear. The bear, Ted, enjoys some fame (appearing on Carson), John grows up into Mark Wahlberg, the pair remain best pals and bong-devoted couch potatoes well into John's arrested-development adulthood.

"Ted" concerns what John must do to earn the respect and devotion of his longtime public relations exec girlfriend, played by Mila Kunis, while still keeping disreputable, trash-talking, skank-chasing Ted in his life.

This is MacFarlane's feature debut as a director, and he co-wrote the script as well as producing and providing the voice of Ted. Ted sounds so much like Peter Griffin in MacFarlane's long-running Fox animated series "Family Guy," the script is shamed into referring to the resemblance. You can find this clever, or you can find it lazy, and this is why MacFarlane is the biggest mixed blessing in contemporary TV comedy: He is both.

The bits I like in "Ted" are not the bits such as the staggeringly brutal brawl between Ted and John, or anything involving Ted's sociopathic kidnappers. I do like MacFarlane's obsessive devotion to the 1980 film version of "Flash Gordon" starring Sam J. Jones, who plays himself in "Ted" for reasons that ... well, who cares. Like "Family Guy," "Ted" is only about its own hyperlinked pop culture references. There's one scene in which Wahlberg does a parody of Robert Hays in "Airplane!" doing a parody of John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever" and while it earns points for nerve, nerve isn't everything in comedy. Plenty of people took their preteen kids to a recent downtown Chicago preview screening of "Ted," which was great, just as it was great to hear one of those nervous and disoriented preteens screaming Ted's nickname for vagina over and over and over, all the way down Illinois Street.

MPAA rating: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug use).

Running time: 1:45.

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (John Bennett); Mila Kunis (Lori Collins); Seth MacFarlane (voice of Ted).

Credits: Directed by Seth MacFarlane, written by Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, story by MacFarlane; produced by MacFarlane, Wild, Jason Clark, John Jacobs and Scott Stuber. A Universal Pictures release.

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

Jeremy Kleiner, from left, Adele Romanski and Barry Jenkins, winners of the award for best picture for "Moonlight", pose in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Here's what happened onstage during the Oscars' mistakeHere's what happened onstage during an instant classic: The Academy Awards' flub of the best picture winner at the end of the 2017 show
The Associated Press1 hour ago
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Batman, voiced by Will Arnett, in a scene from "The LEGO Batman Movie." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Box Office Top 20: 'Get Out' nets $33.4 million openingComedian Jordan Peele's directorial debut, "Get Out," did even better in its first weekend in theaters than initially projected
The Associated Press1 hour ago
Host Jimmy Kimmel tweets President Donald Trump #Merylsayshi during the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Oscars flap eclipses 'Moonlight' win, but civility reignsThe 89th Academy Awards got off on the right foot, with a song and dance, but ended with the most stunning mistake ever to befall the esteemed awards show when the best picture Oscar was presented to the wrong movie
The Associated Press1 hour ago
In this Aug. 6, 2012, photo Jay Cronley poses for a photo in Tulsa, Okla. Author and longtime newspaper columnist Cronley, whose books were made into movies starring some of Hollywood's most notable funnymen, has died at age 73. His daughter, Samantha Noel, says her father died Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at his home in Tulsa. (Tom Gilbert/Tulsa World via AP)
Author, newspaper columnist Jay Cronley dies at 73Oklahoma-based author Jay Cronley, whose books were made into movies starring some of Hollywood's most notable funnymen, has died at age 73
The Associated Press1 hour ago
President Donald Trump speaks to a meeting of the National Governors Association, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Trump says Oscars focused hard on politics before 'sad' endPresident Donald Trump says Sunday's Academy Awards "focused so hard on politics that they didn't get the act together at the end."
The Associated Press1 hour ago
Movie News