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Imagine Charlie Sheen as a talking teddy bear...

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The funny thing about Ted -- yet another comedy about a dopey man-boy who spends his days (and nights) puffing on his bong and watching old TV shows, a character who has taken up permanent residence in the finished basement of American culture -- is that his best friend is a talking teddy bear.

This shouldn't be funny, of course: it's not only dopey, it's coarse and repetitive. It's just that when Ted, as the bear is called, begins to fulminate about, say, the post-coital behaviour of Boston girls ("now I'm gonna stuff my f--kin' face with Pepperidge Farm"), it's hard not to laugh because, well, a teddy bear is saying it. This is John and Ted's excellent adventure.

John (Mark Wahlberg), the human in this relationship, is a 35-year-old man who, when he was eight, wished that his Christmas teddy would come to life. Now, 27 years later, he and the bear are the kind of roommates who make up new words for beer, or who comfort each other through thunderstorms with their childhood Thunder Buddies song that glories in its unabashed vulgarity. That's not necessarily funny either, except when a teddy bear says it.

The bear is a marvellous construction, a walking and talking special effect that has the adorable face of Pooh and the vocabulary of, well, poo. He's voiced by Seth MacFarlane, the director and co-writer, with a similar sense of blue-collar transgression of his animated TV show Family Guy; indeed, Ted sounds very much like Peter Griffin, the star of that show, and he has a similar throwaway tone of rude surrealism. In one scene, Ted gets dressed up in a suit so he can apply for a job he doesn't want. "I look like Snuggle's accountant," he says with the slacker's indolent insight.

Against all odds, John has a girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis) who -- in the manner of all 30-something women in these relationships -- is trying to drag her boyfriend into adulthood even as his unrefined friend (a teddy bear, in this case) conspires to keep him perpetually adolescent, not to mention perpetually stoned. She's the kind of woman who has to bring home takeout for three and then gracefully put up with the wisecracks ("Turkeyburgers?," asks Ted from the couch. "Are we having homosexuals over for dinner?") about her choices.

The triangle forms the plot of Ted, and under the obscene jokes -- Ted sometimes pushes envelopes you didn't know existed -- is a surprisingly sweet love story. Lori wants John to start to take responsibility for his life and put aside childish things (literally). When John and Lori are together, they have a believable chemistry: you're actually rooting for these people, and you sympathize with the pain that John feels as he tries to come to terms with his own childishness ("All I do is smoke pot and watch movies with a teddy f in' bear.") Wahlberg is essentially the straight man, but he has a few good comic moments, including a lightning fast list of trailer-trash girls' names that's a classic of cultural stereotyping, which is the least of the film's worries.

The thin premise is thickened only slightly by a subplot involving Giovanni Ribisi as a creep who wants to buy Ted and give him to his own son. He's after Ted because the bear was once famous; he's positioned as a former celebrity who has grown up to substance abuse and failure.

"This is how the cast of Diff'rent Strokes feels," Ted says as he takes a blue-collar job. There are many such cultural references, and several celebrity cameos. We've seen it all before, but seldom with such reckless abandon, and never with a teddy bear.

-- Postmedia News

Other voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of Ted:

Will it make you wince with embarrassment? That's a promise. Will you also laugh? In double-time, like a Rockette.

-- Rex Reed, New York Observer

Anyone over 15... might sit in the theatre in stony silence.

-- Melissa Anderson, Village Voice

...It does serve up a pretty jaw-dropping array of remarkably crude, nasty, and at times pretty gut-busting jokes.

-- Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies

Much of the material works because the bear has someone to bounce off of; Wahlberg does his best work in situations like this, where he's playing it totally straight in a setting that's totally silly.

-- Christy Lemire, Associated Press

The movie's stuffing of creative smarts is still inert.

-- Richard Brody, New Yorker

(A) predictably irreverent satire that's sweeter and, sadly, less funny than you might expect.

-- Peter Debruge, Variety

A guilty pleasure -- devilishly wrong and yet, oh so right.

-- Mark Sells, The Reel Deal

... While the movie has a dirty mouth, it's got a sweet heart, and it suggests to me that MacFarlane's signature interests are tempered by a new maturity to his work.

-- Drew McWeeny, HitFix

Seth MacFarlane's comedic modus operandi is to shock with outrageousness and pander with TV and movie citations via one non sequitur after another, a strategy that leads to a few laughs but nothing approaching lasting humour.

-- Nick Schager, Slant Magazine

Pop culture reference heaven. I haven't laughed this hard at a movie in a while. It's the funniest movie of the year so far. I'm happy to see Seth MacFarlane take such a great first step on the big screen. You saved every one of us!

-- Kristian Harloff, Schmoes Know

Feel free to shake your head all you want: You can't overestimate how funny it is to watch a stuffed bear behave boorishly, go on coke binges and engage in the greatest man-versus-plush-toy fistfight ever committed to celluloid...

-- David Fear, Time Out New York

-- Compiled by Shane Minkin

Movie review

Ted

Starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis

Grant Park, Kildonan Place, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne

18A

106 minutes

Three stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2012 D4

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