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'Ted': So cuddly, so wrong, so hilarious

This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Mark Wahlberg, left with the character Ted, voiced by Seth MacFarlane in a scene from "Ted." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

A teddy bear who smokes pot, parties with hookers, beds pop stars and spews profanity in a thick New England accent?

Such a creature could only come from the blissfully twisted mind of "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, confidently making his feature directing debut with "Ted."

If you love his animated TV show, you'll probably love this: In a lot of ways, "Ted" feels like a live-action, big-screen version of "Family Guy" with its pop-culture references and inappropriate racial humor, flashbacks and non sequiturs. (MacFarlane co-wrote the script with two of his longtime collaborators on the series, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.) He's even included the same sort of orchestral arrangements of jaunty transitional music between scenes. And Ted, whom MacFarlane himself voices, happens to sound exactly like Peter Griffin (which would have been obvious even without a throw-away joke spelling it out for us).

Still, you chuck enough of this stuff at a wall and some of it will stick. Most of it does for most of the time, although some of the one-liners and gross-out gags do show signs of strain. "Ted" also happens to be sweeter than you might expect, despite the predictability of its formula, with a climax that will warm the heart of anyone with New England ties.

Mark Wahlberg stars as John, whose wish upon a star as a lonely kid in the '80s turned his Christmas-morning teddy bear into a walking, talking friend for life. Decades later, the two are still best buddies living together in Boston, although they're both understandably a tad stunted; daily waking-and-baking probably doesn't help matters. John works a nowhere job at a rental-car company, while Ted spends his days getting wasted and enjoying the meager glimmers of fame he achieved for being such an oddity. (A flashback that places Ted on the "Tonight Show" set for an interview with Johnny Carson is seamless; actually, Ted's insertion into all the live-action antics is impressive, even though the bear himself intentionally looks pretty ratty.)

Despite this adolescent attachment, John has managed to carve out a healthy, four-year relationship with the beautiful, successful and exceedingly patient Lori (Mila Kunis, who voices the awkward teenage daughter Meg on "Family Guy"). But by this point, something's gotta give. Lori presses John for a more serious commitment - and to the film's credit, she doesn't come off like a nagging shrew for making this request - but John isn't ready to put away childish things.

So this is essentially the film's central conflict: John tries to please the two most important figures in his life at the same time but repeatedly disappoints them both. Subplots involving Lori's leering boss (Joel McHale) and a scheme by a creepy dad (Giovanni Ribisi) to kidnap the bear feel like filler rather than real threats, although Ribisi's character does add a whole 'nother level of daring weirdness to the proceedings.

"Ted" is at its best when Ted is at his worst. The disparity between the innocence such a toy is meant to represent and the utter wrongness of his every action provides a pretty consistent source of hilarity. But 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.

If only the movie had come out closer to the holidays: Ted would make an excellent gift for the overgrown adolescent in everyone's life.

"Ted," a Universal Pictures release, is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug use. Running time: 105 minutes. Three stars out of four.

 

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