views from the gods

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Ted (15)
Vue, West End
5th July 2012


In watching Family Guy, American Dad or The Cleveland Show, you'd be forgiven for thinking creator Seth MacFarlane doesn't have a tender bone in his body. But here, in his first feature-length live-action outing, he sets out to test that notion - and the result is a breathlessly funny and incredibly warm-hearted gem.

From the opening scenes of a Jewish kid getting beaten up, featuring a Patrick Stewart voiceover that once again proves he can poke fun at himself, it is evident we're in for a gloriously un-PC ride. And not un-PC in the tedious Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Littlejohn mould, rather well-focused intelligent boundary-pushing stupidity akin to Will Ferrell.

In the first few minutes, we meet lonely outcast John Bennett, who makes a wish on a star for his stuffed bear to come to life. It does and, obviously, becomes a celebrity for a short time. Flash forward 30-odd years, and John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (a mo-capped Seth MacFarlane) live with John's girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). John and Ted haven't grown up too much, and spend most of their time watching Flash Gordon and getting high.

When John proposes to Lori, she gives him an ultimatum - Ted or her. And with Lori's sex-pest boss (a wonderfully sleazy Joel McHale) and creepy Ted fan Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) on the scene, the best buddies have to face the fact they might have to grow up.

Let's be clear, Ted isn't going to win any awards for originality. It's a classic slacker/buddy movie in the mould of Dumb and Dumber or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. But when the film is easily as funny as either of those, it doesn't really matter.

Some of MacFarlane's affectations are on display here, but thankfully co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild curb his worst excesses. The dreaded, lazy cutaway gags that can drag down Family Guy are used sparingly (and exceedingly well) here. A fight scene resembling Peter Griffin's tedious fights with the chicken overstays its welcome, but only just. In fact, that's the only real example of the film dragging out a gag for too long, relying instead on a whole host of rapid-fire gags that build and build. Frequently you'll miss a punchline because the audience are laughing so hard at the set-up.

A lot of humour is derived from a cute teddy acting wildly inappropriately, and MacFarlane's performance, such as it is, is at times indistinguishable from Peter Griffin. The human cast, however, occupy the perfect space between cartoon and reality. Wahlberg is believable as the frustrated, slightly dim, self-sabotaging but basically decent John. Kunis again is solid as the long-suffering partner. The stand-out, though, has to be Ribisi as the grown man obsessed with Ted. Menacing and bonkers, he channels Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill and is not in the film enough.

As good as the first hour is, it's in the final act when all of the pieces really begin to fit together and the film's heart is exposed. The all-too-relatable friendship between John and Ted works because, although an antagonist, Ted isn't malicious. Inconsiderate, impulsive and crass, yes, but not cruel. Likewise the final deus ex machina isn't too frustrating simply because Ted is so likeable. In a way, it's an antithesis of Toy Story 3, this film celebrates growing up but not letting go.

Packed with howl-inducing cameos, it's smashed the box office in the US. I can't say it will immediately do as well here, but with word of mouth and MacFarlane's loyal fanbase, it's sure to run and run. In a few years' time, it will be mentioned in the same breath as Zoolander or Anchorman. Mark my words.

Ted was released in the UK on 1st August 2012.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)

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