IN "TED," Seth MacFarlane becomes the latest comic brain to take on the popular subject of the adult male who refuses to grow up.
MacFarlane makes the theme as literal as possible — John (Mark Wahlberg) is such a child he still has his teddy bear. John's 35, dating a fox (Mila Kunis), yet the bear, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) is still his best friend, and top priority.
This alarms Lori (Kunis), who's four years into the relationship and wants an engagement ring, and more pressingly some sign from John that he's going to mature. After all, Andy from "Toy Story 3" was of college age when he gave his toys away, Christopher Robin no doubt younger when he ditched Pooh.
John, though, has a particularly sticky problem in Ted. The bear is magically gifted with the power of speech, of a sort. Ted's R-rated thoughts bend toward finding ways to pry John away from his job to smoke dope.
Ted isn't Pooh — he's Falstaff, jangling in Ted's eager ears the chimes of midnight, until it's all too much for poor Lori. The last straw — she brings John to an important office function, and he sneaks away to party with Ted and Sam Jones. Who? Sam Jones, star of the 1980s cult fave "Flash Gordon," for John and Ted the pinnacle of three-cornered bliss that includes a bong and a couch.
"Ted" is consistently, sometimes raucously funny, but moviegoers will note a familiar pattern. The '80s references (John sings the theme from "Octopussy" … with Norah Jones!), are a way of locating Ted in his own childhood — his ringtones are a succession of themes from '80s movies and television. We learn that talking Ted was himself a brief celebrity in the '80s, alongside Corey Feldman.
The '80s riffs, of course, are also a way of playing to the John/Ted that live inside members of Hollywood's prized demo. It's now possible for adult males to refuse to grow up by seeing a succession of movies about adult males who refuse to grow up. "Sean of the Dead," or "Knocked Up," or just about anything by Judd Apatow (featuring the ursine presence of Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill).
They're often very good, they're sometimes very bad — Adam Sandler dragged Vanilla Ice (and "son" Todd) through "That's My Boy" to work the same '80s has-been territory. MacFarlane has better writers, his premise more imagination and discipline. You feel, though, for women in Lori's position. In the end, she's left with no choice but to find some way to live with the furry manifestation of John's lingering adolescence. Grin, and bear it.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at www.philly.com/keepitreel.
REVIEW | sss
Directed by Seth MacFarlane. With Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunus. Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Running time: 105 minutes
Parent's guide: R (sex, language)
Playing at: area theaters