Mark Wahlberg possesses a childlike sweetness that makes it surprisingly easy to believe that his best friend could be a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, yet adorable talking teddy bear—and that such a friendship would be a pairing of equals. The feature directorial debut of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, Ted makes inspired use of the ingratiating innocence behind Wahlberg’s working-class toughness, resulting in an incongruously cute interspecies buddy comedy that’s powered alternately by the pixie dust of boyhood imagination and the ruder, cruder urges of adolescence.
Wahlberg stars as a 35-year-old slacker in a go-nowhere job at a rental-car place. His life as the adoring boyfriend of the gorgeous Mila Kunis and roommate and best pal of a sentient, wisecracking teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane, who also co-wrote the script and produced) gives him little reason to grow up. That changes, however, when the otherwise insanely patient Kunis (making the most of an underwritten role) asks Wahlberg to lose Ted as a roommate as a means of kick-starting Wahlberg’s tardy voyage to maturity. Making matters worse, the pals face an outside threat in the form of an even-creepier-than-usual Giovanni Ribisi.
MacFarlane has received a lot of criticism, much of it justified, for favoring pop-culture references over character-based comedy, but the funniest moments in Ted are rooted in Wahlberg’s relationship with his furry buddy. As a stunted manchild and his incorrigible best friend, Wahlberg and MacFarlane have a wonderfully lived-in chemistry that carries the film through intermittent rough patches. Even the pop-culture references serve the themes: A running gag involving Wahlberg and MacFarlane’s deification of cheesy ’80s icon Sam Jones (Flash Gordon), for example, is funny in its own right while speaking to the comfort the two soul mates find in never evolving beyond the goofy pleasures of boyhood.
After the rollicking first two acts climax with a go-for-broke party sequence, MacFarlane’s film runs headfirst into a brick wall, as thriller elements awkwardly introduced early in the film come to the fore. Ted is never stronger than when Wahlberg and MacFarlane’s Ted hang out, riff, and luxuriate in an easy friendship, but as it lurches to a conclusion, Ted unwisely devotes far too much of its time to a plot it would be better off ignoring. Ted requires Wahlberg to grow up and prove himself as a man, but he, and the film, are a lot more fun when they’re goofing around.