A. When it stars Seth MacFarlane instead of Adam Sandler.
Really, if you want to know whether you’ll enjoy Ted, the hilarious new comedy about a hilarious talking teddy bear who hilariously swears, berates everyone around him and gets hilariously high with hookers, then just ask yourself whether you find Adam Sandler’s particular brand of comedy amusing. If the answer to that is Yes, then a) you’re very welcome to him, and b) you’ll definitely enjoy Ted.
Ted is simply a slight variation on every Adam Sandler “comedy” ever made. A thirty-something man-child slacker (Mark Wahlberg) lazes through life doing drugs with his best friend while his sexy and impossibly tolerant girlfriend (Mila Kunis) tries to get him to grow up and make something of himself. In an Adam Sandler movie, the best friend might be played by Rob Scheider or Kevin James or Chris Rock. Here though, in an ingenious marketing move, he’s played by a magical talking teddy bear (voiced by writer/producer/director MacFarlane). Sandler must be kicking himself, in-between bouts of laughing in that really annoying voice at his stupendously-sized bank balance.
The two key ingredients for any Sandler comedy are a liberal helping of offensive and/or gross-out gags, and a thick dollop of schmaltz to try and win the audience’s sympathy while deflecting any criticism about the film’s liability to offend. Ted has both of these in equal measure. Taking pot shots at targets like ethnic minorities or 9/11 is always a dicey proposition: it’s a fine line between teasing out the humour of any real-world situation and just pointing the finger and laughing at somebody else’s expense. Ted takes the easy option, lazily stereotyping and offending anyone it fancies (Indians, Muslims, Iranians, Chinese, Parkinson’s sufferers… it’s a long list) and just assumes this in itself is funny. Sorry old chap, but more often than not it isn’t. I don’t think of myself as a prude, and fair play to anyone involved here willing to send themselves up, but 90% of the alleged jokes just aren’t funny. Judging by the audience’s extended bouts of silence in the screening I attended, it wasn’t just me who thought so.
Then, to make matters worse, the gooey schmaltz is applied to try and make us care about Wahlberg’s doofus while turning the film in to a sort of subversive fairy tale. Narrator Patrick Stewart (who vocally doesn’t come across as a natural comedian) tells us the bear came alive one Christmas night when a very young and lonely Wahlberg wished upon a star. Good grief. At first it appears the film is knowingly winking at the audience, but after a while it dawns on you that, no, it really is trying to tug at the heartstrings (especially towards the end). All of which leads you to suspect that the ultimate butt of the joke is anyone who pays to go and see Ted. Was it made as a bet between MacFarlane and Sandler as to who could hoodwink cinema audiences the most?
To be fair, it’s not entirely mirthless: as a fan of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, it was difficult to suppress a smile when its star Sam Jones turned up during numerous homages to that cult classic (especially the ‘Flash-jump’). Even here though, Ted simply mimics Sandler by getting a celebrity to cameo and be the butt of many a pop culture joke (hey, it avoids all that bother of actually having to write a decent script). CGI Ted does give a sporadically amusing performance however, unlike Wahlberg, who I have never found to be a particularly engaging presence, and who delivers his usual blank-eyed thing.
It might be that I’ve completely misread the film and it is in fact an extended hallucinatory trip into Lynchian territory experienced by Wahlberg’s stoner. But I doubt it.