“Ted” is nearly un-bear-able

“Ted” is nearly un-bear-able

Like an old childhood teddy bear, Seth MacFarlane’s raunchy comedy “Ted” is cute and cuddly at the beginning before wearing out its welcome.

One Christmas, 8-year-old John Bennett receives a teddy bear. A lonely boy, Johnny wishes that his bear could “really talk so we could be best friends forever.” His wish comes true, and 27 years later, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (Seth MacFarlane) are still best friends.

But, when John’s girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) wants more commitment in their relationship, she gives John an ultimatum: Ted must move out.

“Ted” has two major problems that cause it to overstay its welcome. First, MacFarlane wants to have his cake and eat it too, so to speak. Many of the laughs come from the gimmick involving filth pouring forth from a seemingly-innocent mouth. It’s a common trope – a precocious 8-year-old girl expresses angst, and old granny talks vividly about sex way too loudly, etc. Here, even when MacFarlane’s dialogue falls flat, and this is more often than I care to admit, the jokes are at least partially saved by simply coming from a fluffy teddy bear. However, over the 106-minute running time, MacFarlane and company also go for the heart a bit. “Ted” masquerades as a look at male friendship and what happens when a woman is involved (think “I Love You, Man”). These attempts at sentiment are eye-rolling. It’s a bear, after all.

The film’s second fault is that it’s just not that funny. I could hear desperation in the laughs of the mostly-packed theatre. It was as though MacFarlane’s fanbase came out in full force, partially insecure about their appreciation of his animated sitcom, and sure, doggedly sure, that this was going to be a rocking good time. “Ted” is funny in parts, but its “kitchen wall” mode of comedy (throw everything at the wall and see what sticks a la “Airplane!”) quickly becomes annoying and grating. And most of the big laughs have been done before. MacFarlane even tries to assure you that this type of comedy works with obvious references to his hit “Family Guy” and a scene so oddly ripped from “Airplane!” one cannot tell if it is homage or parody.

It’s not enough to say that “Ted” is in the same vein as “Family Guy.” The reason “Family Guy” mostly works is that it is served in 21-minute servings, and the episodes play like vignettes from a distracted schoolboy anyway. I’m not saying “Ted” is too thin of a premise to make a feature. On paper, it resembles Jimmy Stewart’s “Harvey.” But MacFarlane needed to know his strengths and weaknesses better. If a writer wants to make a film about a talking teddy bear, why not reel it in at 86 minutes? Instead, MacFarlane adds an unnecessary diverse involving a father who wants to kidnap Ted for his bratty son. This episode feels like a different film, or another episode in a series. It does not help that the father is played by Giovanni Ribisi (“Avatar,” “The Rum Diaries”), an actor with such a constantly-grating and horribly obnoxious presence that he made me long for the cardboard acting of Kunis.

“Ted” was a huge disappointment. Even the most avid “Family Guy” fan, when she/he is honest, will feel MacFarlane straining here – straining until it hurts.