4½-some anyone?

To sum it up in a sentence, Seth MacFarlane’s Ted was funny enough, but it felt a lot longer than its listed 106 minute run time and that’s not a good thing for a movie high concept that could’ve been satisfactorily explored across the space of a couple of half-hour sitcoms.

Mark Wahlberg plays John Bennett who, as a friendless boy, wished his new teddy bear to life. Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) really did come alive and he even reached a measure of celebrity in the ’80s before burning out. The thing is, anchored to his childhood in the form of a living, breathing favorite stuffed toy, John has never really grown up. Unmotivated and directionless, he spends most of his free time on the couch with Ted smoking weed and watching TV. It’s a happy if useless existence that somehow manages to include the gorgeous Lori (Mila Kunis), John’s girlfriend of four years. Lori is a good sport, but her patience has limits. She wants to settle down and she wants John to grow up. The only way he can do that is to cut ties with his furry, stuffed best buddy.

Continuing a disappointing trend of comedies that sell themselves as raucous and dirty when in fact they’re weak sauce (see: The Hangover), Ted turns out to be less edgy than a typical episode of MacFarlane’s TV show Family Guy. There’s some swearing of course and a boob shot, but even the choicest bit involving a hooker, a white carpet and a certain bodily function could’ve slid past the network censors. Like MacFarlane’s TV work, easy celebrity targets get skewered, deadly diseases are used for laughs and hot button current events are tossed off irreverently, but most of these jabs feel pretty stale and out of date. Even unchained from the shackles of commercial broadcast television, the best MacFarlane can come up with are Diff’rent Strokes, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and 9/11 jokes.

That’s not to say Ted isn’t funny. Enough jokes land to keep the chuckles coming and none of them fall so flat that you’re put out of the mood. There’s a fun ongoing bit about the 1980 Flash Gordon flick, an extended comic brawl between man and stuffed bear, the aforementioned hooker business and Ted’s funny attempts to get fired from his job as a grocery clerk, but the laughs are spread awfully thin which is a problem because the story holding them up is mostly dull.

With his knack for acting like he doesn’t know he’s being funny, Mark Wahlberg is great in comic roles (see: Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, The Departed, The Other Guys), but here he’s mostly just the straight guy to MacFarlane’s wise-cracking, pot smoking teddy bear and not a very interesting one. For his part, MacFarlane gives himself most of the best bits and he scores with a lot of them even if he sounds distractingly like a cross between Family Guy’s Peter and Brian. Unfortunately, after Darren Aronofsky showed the world how to tap into Mila Kunis’ dark charms in Black Swan, she’s once again relegated to a stale girlfriend part. She’s not bad, but it’s not a role that takes enough advantage of her unique sexy edge.

For a man who likes to position himself as a bad boy of television, MacFarlane is surprisingly and unwisely earnest with Ted’s “men must eventually put away childish things” story to the extent that it keeps getting in the way of the humor. Yes, I get that John/Ted are stand-ins for a whole generation of man-children whose infatuations have taken popular culture prisoner, but MacFarlane never has much interesting to say about it. That would be fine if the movie were funnier, but it never sustains its occasional comic heights. Instead, it meanders along sort of lazily while working itself toward a deflatingly sentimental finale. In the end, a promising comic conceit has been sold out for something unexpectedly bland and conventional. While it’s amusing enough at the time, Ted is almost instantly forgettable.

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All material copyright 2007-2012 by Craig Kennedy unless otherwise stated