Laughs make vulgarity of ‘Ted’ bearable

06/29/2012 5:00 AM

06/29/2012 7:16 AM

There are moments in Seth MacFarlane’s new comedy “Ted” so flagrantly vulgar — bits involving parsnips and hand lotion and human excrement (though thankfully not all together) — that you are inevitably reminded of John Waters, the maestro of bad taste who held up a fun-house mirror to America in the 1970s and ’80s in movies such as “Pink Flamingos” and “Polyester,” showing us that we are not nearly so upstanding as we would like to pretend.

But then you remember that Waters never came up with anything like the title character in “Ted,” a pot-smoking, four-letter-word-spewing, anthropomorphic teddy bear who also happens to have a mean right hook.

“Ted” is a symphony of the crass. Pity the pour soul who wanders into this movie unawares. Everyone else, though, gets to relish the most sustained, deliciously weird assault on middle-class American values since the original “Jackass.”

As devoted fans already know, MacFarlane is the creator of the cult hit animated sitcom “Family Guy,” and “Ted” hews almost exactly to the model of that show: There are inexplicable non sequiturs, chock-a-block pop-culture references and at the center of the story a presumably nonverbal figure — a dog on “Family Guy,” a child’s toy here — whose ability to talk like a 40-year-old man doesn’t seem to faze anyone.

In stretching out the conceit of a 30-minute show to 106-minute movie, “Ted” sometimes feels strained. Many of the scattershot gags miss the mark, or come off as unnecessarily mean-spirited.

In a prologue, narrated with mock sincerity by Patrick Stewart, we learn the story of John Bennett, who one Christmas night wished that his new teddy bear would come to life so they could be best friends forever. The next morning, Ted is walking and cheerfully talking. Within weeks, he’s on the covers of magazines, a bona fide celebrity. Flash forward 25 years or so, though, and Ted has been forgotten by the public. He is still best buddies with the now-adult, rudderless John (Mark Wahlberg), but they live together in a state of arrested adolescence, as John’s girlfriend (Mila Kunis) looks on in frustration.

The biggest knock to be made against “Ted” is that the central conflict feels familiar.

But there’s no mistaking the angry satire that underlies the film: MacFarlane gleefully mocks our obsession with celebrity and our politically correct anxieties when it comes to talking about race and sexuality.

This movie wins no points for subtlety, and that’s exactly what makes it so special.

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