Ted a bedtime story for stunted adults everywhere 

As the man behind Family Guy and American Dad, Seth MacFarlane has been one of the prime movers in contemporary network animation. But behind all the cutaway jokes, edgy racial/ethnic humor, Conway Twitty revivals and Grammy-nominated crooning, there's always been a sense that he might be good for more. Ted, his directorial debut, confirms this. A vicious and egalitarian romp through childhood faith and manchild malaise, Ted is the story of one child's wish that his teddy bear could really talk and relate to him. It's a wish that keeps on giving, as little Johnny grows up to be Mark "The Artist Formerly Known as Marky Mark" Wahlberg, and Ted grows to have the voice and attitude of Seth MacFarlane. His Ted is a rampaging id of adorable softness, with an insatiable appetite for weed, ladies and hanging out with John.

Ted is certainly the best talking teddy bear film since 1981's The Pit. MacFarlane and his cast have a razor-sharp sense of how things need to play out, and they keep the timing on this film so taut you could set a watch to it. Wahlberg hasn't been this invested in a part since The Fighter and I Heart Huckabees, and he is matched by Mila Kunis as his long-suffering but good-hearted girlfriend, a part from which she wrings depth that may not have been on the page. Kunis could have been a silent movie star — she has eyes like Sylvia Sidney or Theda Bara. And she commits to this film's crazy with the same discipline and fervor she brought to Black Swan's. Respect is also due Joel McHale, finding new depths in gleeful unctuousness as Kunis' boss, and Patrick Warburton, who finds a blasé approach to his character's primary subplot that seems exactly right for where we are as a society.

The somewhat episodic structure works to the movie's advantage, especially during Ted's grim tenure at a supermarket job — one of the most devastating critiques of the business world ever put on screen. As the film goes on, alas, it gets more and more conventional, a problem for a filthy fantasy about childhood dreams all grown up. Don't get me wrong, though: If you're at all a fan of the 1980 Flash Gordon, you need to see this film.

Ted is certainly one of the best films about male friendships since Shaun of the Dead. There's a fight scene in a hotel between Wahlberg and what, in the production process, was probably a tennis ball or some similar piece of VFX shorthand. As it appears in the film, it is a visceral confrontation that unleashes decades of unspoken issues. Even if it's just rendered data and physical combat training, it hits harder than any fight in an American film so far this year — which is to say that you never question Ted's realness. Maybe it's in reaction to the opening sequence which firmly establishes Ted's persona as the result of a Christmas wish that is readily accepted by the rest of the world, or just a reflection of how committed the entire cast is. But Ted is real — or movie real, which is enough. (Now playing.) JASON SHAWHAN


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