Ted: Awesomely Arrested Development

The genteel and prudish better stay away from Ted, but Family Guy fans will be in heaven and Seth MacFarlane should earn plenty of new followers with this gleeful comedy

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Universal Movies

The greatest compliment I can pay director Seth MacFarlane’s beyond-ribald comedy Ted is this: even his fart jokes are funny. And there is nothing I like less in a movie, short of mutilation, than jokes about flatulence, so you take my point. This is no-holds-barred humor of the finest, grossest kind, centered around the theme of arrested development. The genteel and prudish should stay away, and if by some chance The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is sold out and you end up at Ted, don’t send me emails expressing your dismay about its crude, politically incorrect stoner humor. I warned you.

Have the nice people clicked away? Okay, good. The rest of you, watch the bongwater; it can really screw up your laptop. Ted’s setup calls to mind The Beaver, another movie about dependency on a stuffed animal, although Ted is free of The Beaver’s pretensions and the unpleasantness of trying to get the audience to sympathize with Mel Gibson. It’s also about a hundred times funnier. John Bennett (played as a child by Bretton Manley and by Mark Wahlberg as an adult) is 8 and desperate for a friend. He gets a teddy bear for Christmas, wishes it could talk (beyond “I Love You,” which it says when you squish it) and a shooting star makes it so. All of this is narrated by Patrick Stewart in lovely, plummy “Once upon a time” style narration, but interrupted by gloriously wicked random segues (Christmas, he intones as the camera travels over John’s neighborhood, is “that special season when Boston children get together and—there’s a beat—beat up the Jewish kids”). After their initial horror, John’s parents embrace Ted as well and the talking bear becomes one of the family. They don’t keep Ted a secret either; he’s all over the news and an ’80s celebrity. Thanks to the magic of computers, we even see his appearance opposite Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

(READ: TIME’s review of The Beaver, another story of a dude and his stuffed animal)

Fast-forward 27 years and John (now played by Mark Wahlberg) and Ted are still best friends, living in a brick townhouse in Boston. Only the bear no longer coos and burbles like Snuggles. Now he sounds like the ultimate frat boy pig, but loveable. Credit for that miracle goes to MacFarlane, who voices Ted and—thanks to motion-capture technology—was able to provide the bear’s hyper-realistic movements. Instead of cuddling up together to watch Flash Gordon, Ted and John do bong hits on the couch together. Actually, they never stopped watching Flash Gordon, they just added the bong hits. And some brewskis.

Because John is 35, stoned half the time and only ambitious enough to work at a rental car company, his gorgeous girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis, who has been working with MacFarlane on Family Guy since before she was old enough to drive) asks him to get Ted to move out. She’s not putting pressure on John to get married, but she would like him to grow up. The bear has to get an apartment and a job. That’s easier than you’d expect—one of the best jokes of the movie is the fact that the entire world accepts the talking stuffed animal—and soon Ted is ringing up groceries. “I’m a former celebrity in a minimum wage job,” Ted says glumily. “This must be how the cast of Different Strokes feels.” John and Ted do their best, but despite good intentions, the boyish man and the mannish bear have a very hard time staying away from each other.

(READ: About Wahlberg in a totally different kind of role)

I saw Ted in Boston, a particular pleasure since MacFarlane skewers just about everything about the place: the women, who Ted claims screech “haaaardah” during sex and then stuff their faces with Pepperidge Farm cookies; people from Quincy; Catholic hooligans. There’s a well-placed joke about Cheers (and a cast member cameo). Ted even cracks wise about the fish at the New England Aquarium. Only the swan boats are safe from MacFarlane’s savage mockery. At every spot-on reference, the audience roared with appreciation. My notebook quickly filled with one-liners from the bear, most of them unprintable.

There’s something of Boogie Nights’ Dirk Diggler in Wahlberg’s performance. John is an innocent—banished by Lori, he reads TinTin in a hotel room—but less of a stooge than Dirk. And he does more than play the straight man; he gets laughs on his own. A sequence where he and Ted brawl is inspired. As for Kunis, you sense MacFarlane’s fondness for her in the way he’s written the character; Lori has to be the most reasonable movie girlfriend of the year, but she’s not a doormat. The supporting cast, which includes cameos by a famous singer, is also first-rate, especially Giovanni Ribisi as a furtive mustached Ted fan who wants to buy the bear for his son and won’t take no for an answer. Ted’s girlfriend (yes, he has one) spots Ribisi lurking in a dark alley, wearing a flannel shirt and looking nutty. “Who is that?” she asks. “That was Sinead O’Connor,” Ted tells her. “She don’t look so good anymore.” Isn’t that awful? But how I laughed.

(READ: Why we love Mila Kunis. Or one of the reasons)

And I did so right up until the end, although less heartily at the climax. The bubble doesn’t exactly burst in the last ten minutes of the movie, but it does deflate. Everyone who sets a movie in Boston seems obligated to include a scene at Fenway, but once you’ve seen Fever Pitch, everything else has a tendency to pale. MacFarlane, who shares credit for the screenplay along with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, doesn’t so much reach a resolution for his characters as he does take them in a circle. But by then I was too exhausted from laughing to care. MacFarlane has definitely made the best leap from animated television to movies since 1999′s South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut.

READ: Joel Stein’s profile of Seth MacFarlane

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