Joel Jones 9 p.m., Aug. 31
The first thing one notices about Ted is the flat TV lighting. There's not a shadow as far as the eye can't see. It's the anti-3D: instead of paying a $4.00 surcharge for stereoscopic glasses, theatres should lop a few bucks off the ticket price due to depth impairment.
The similarities don't stop there. Ted contains about 10 minutes worth of laughs, a pretty good ratio were it a half-hour sitcom, not a 105 minute feature.
Ted (voiced by writer/director Seth MacFarlane) was immaculately conceived on Christmas Day, 1983. (The stuffed bear's owner, John, made a wish that the two become best friends forever.) The most appealing portion of the film is the 5 minutes dedicated to America's reaction to the phenomenon of a walking, talking, and fully-reasoning plush toy. Watching Ted zing Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show is the film's crowning digital achievement. Were it up to me, Ted and Johnny would never have grow up (and Joe Dante would be calling the shots).
Ted's star plummets. Once his 15 minutes of fame pass, Ted matures into a scruffy Boston bear who parties harder than his Kennedy namesake. The adult John is played by a woefully miscast Mark Wahlberg. John is an insecure, substance abusing doof incapable of putting his childhood behind him. Wahlberg is a terrific actor, but this is a role for Paul Dano or even Jonah Hill, not a chiseled slab of Hollywood beef who oozes confidence and charm. Wahlberg is as incapable of playing an emotionally stunted nerd as DeNiro was playing dumb in Stanley and Iris.
All John needs is one error-free month at the car rental company and he will be bumped up to branch manager. As if that situation were not enough to add needless conflict to the mix, there's John's galpal, Lori, whose co-workers insist throw down a "Ted or me" ultimatum. What insecure 33-year-old teddy bear-bearer is going to land a grounded career woman like Lori, especially when she's played by comely Mila Kunis, the girl with the swimming pool eyes?
The novelty of watching a computer generated toy working blue wears off at around the 30 minute mark. All that's left is skit comedy, a chase sequence, and a fresh fart joke involving Joel McHale that, to MacFarlane's credit, made me laugh. Considering his penchant for inane pop culture references, MacFarlane proves to be a Tarantino without a cause, throwing in slams against everything from Flash Gordon's Sam Jones to the theme from Octopussy. Several of the topical mentions are so obscure as to date the film before it hits home video.
MacFarlane may talk a dirty game, but when it comes to showing his hand, the bad boy goes "all in" with a pair of Hollywood conventions. Does a film about a 33-year-old substance-abusing slob and his animatronic knickknack really need a formulaic romance? But wait, there's more! A clumsily planted subplot -- Giovanni Ribisi as a covetous father wanting to kidnap Ted ostensibly as a gift for his slovenly son -- pads out the third act.
Critics with memories that stretch beyond 2005 are calling this a modern day Harvey. Jimmy Stewart starred as cuddly lush Elwood P. Dowd, a man so haunted by delirium tremens he imagined his best friend was a 6-foot rabbit. Adorable alkie Elwood is the only one before whom the bunny materializes. In MacFarlane's update everyone sees Ted.
A first-reel logjam of references to E.T., Raiders, and Jurassic Park indicated MacFarlane was about to score major points by taking a dump in Spielbergia. If anything, he waters Steve's lawn with a urine-scented drizzle of indebtedness. Ted isn't patterned after an invisible bunny named Harvey. He's Dirty E.T., a cursing CG sock that MacFarlane ultimately employs (just like his idol) as a pathetic means of eliciting pathos.
Reader Rating: One Star
Click for Showtimes.