Flatulence, racism, sex, profanity, drugs, homophobia, and more lazy pop-culture references than a sane mind can stand all animate Ted, the story of a 35-year-old rental-car agent, John (Mark Wahlberg), whose best friend is a degenerate stuffed bear named Ted (Seth MacFarlane) brought to magic life by John’s childhood Christmas wish. These various ribald elements, all smushed together with a haphazard disregard for coherence, intelligence, or lasting appeal, are the hallmarks of MacFarlane’s Family Guy, and like that show, the hit-to-miss ratio of his debut feature skews heavily toward the latter. As on the small screen, MacFarlane’s comedic modus operandi is to shock with outrageousness and pander with TV and movie citations via one non sequitur after another, a strategy that leads to a few laughs but nothing approaching lasting humor. In Ted, the premium is placed on eliciting guffaws by targeting viewers’ pop savviness, so that cleverness takes a back seat to either raunchiness—Ted woos a bimbo by ejaculating hand lotion on his face, and one of Ted’s hookers craps on his apartment floor—or to allusions to any and every piece of cultural detritus that springs to its creator’s mind. Diff’rent Strokes! Tiffany! Hootie and the Blowfish! Flash Gordon! Feh.
Seeking approval by nastily bashing the likes of Katy Perry and Brandon Routh, Ted also finds time to slam Jack and Jill, all without realizing that it operates similar to an Adam Sandler comedy in its lazy strip-mining of the ’80s and ’90s for easy crowd-pleasing gags. So pathological is this tack by film’s conclusion that, in hindsight, original bits such as John’s rapid-fire recitation of female white-trash names seem even more amusing than they were in the moment, simply because they’re free of the hey-everyone-get-in-on-the-joke tediousness of its cameos. The most prominent of those is Sam Jones (a.k.a. the original Flash Gordon), who shows up at Ted’s house for no logical reason except that MacFarlane thinks that sticking Jones in this slog is a funny concept, and then has him do coke with, and fight alongside, John and Ted because, well, ’80s cameos are even funnier when they involve blow and violence. This isn’t to say that such blasts from the past are by definition unacceptable; rather, it’s that the longer Ted plows ahead, all while managing to say absolutely nothing lucid about friendship, relationships, or growing up, the more it resembles a film made by someone who can only regurgitate, in mashed-up form, the naughty words and celebrity personalities from his own childhood.
McFarlane’s story finds John struggling between juvenile partying (i.e. Ted) and mature responsibility (i.e. his girlfriend Lori, played by Mila Kunis), with Lori cast as the sweet, reasonable, and yet nag-nag-nag harpy who’s ruining all of John’s fun with ne’er-do-well Ted. A kidnapping subplot concerning a weirdo single father played by Giovanni Ribisi allows for some cheap shots at fat kids to go along with the innumerable jabs at, or involving, Jews, Arabs, 9/11, gays, and “retards”—impropriety delivered in a random manner tailor-made for the frat-stoner crowd. For every inspired bit of vulgarity, there are five duds lurking around the corner, and though Wahlberg and MacFarlane share a dim-bulb chemistry as lifelong BFFs bonded together by time and idiocy, Ted is even less savvy than its protagonists, right up to a conclusion that hinges on the fantasy that, when push comes to shove, smart, beautiful women are so desperate for a hot guy that they’re willing to give in and let them remain perpetual man-children. That was also the final note struck by Step Brothers, but unlike that Will Ferrell-Adam McKay collaboration, MacFarlane’s film—mainly preoccupied with inanity like using Tom Skerritt as an absurd prop—treats that message not with subversive tongue in cheek, but with retrograde sincerity.