A crude and very funny story of a man and his teddy bear

It's early days, but I'm betting on Mark Wahlberg for best actor when the Oscars swing around next year. There's a scene in Ted - Seth MacFarlane's ridicuously crude and inspired fable about a grown man and his talking plush toy - in which Wahlberg's easygoing Beantown schmo, John Bennett, tries to guess the name of his best buddy's new girlfriend. She has a typical "white trash" moniker, and so John unleashes a mile-a-minute stream of possibilities. Wahlberg takes fast-talking to a whole new plane of existence.

The best buddy in Ted is, of course, Ted, a teddy bear that John has had since he was 8. Voiced by MacFarlane, the brains behind TV's animated series Family Guy and American Dad!, he was a Christmas gift from John's parents to their lonely, bullied boy. And in one of those magical miracles that happen in movies, if not in life, little John goes to sleep wishing Ted could be real. The next morning, he is.

And 27 years later, John and Ted remain inseparable. They share a sense of humor (scatalogical, sex-obsessed), a penchant for brewskis and a passion for the epically cheesy 1980 flick Flash Gordon. And they share a bong - with great frequency.

They also share an apartment with John's girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), who is beginning to feel like Ted is keeping John from, well, growing up. How can you take a relationship seriously when you're ready to drop everything to sit with your bear pal to watch the cast interviews from a DVD boxed set of Cheers?

Throw in a gaggle of hookers named Heavenly, Angelique, and Sauvignon Blanc; throw in a Travis Bickle-like dad (Giovanni Ribisi, finally put to good use!) and his psycho son (Aedin Mincks) who want Ted for themselves; throw in the singer Norah Jones (don't ask); throw in Tom Skerritt as himself; throw in Lori's blithely lecherous boss (Joel McHale); throw in Jessica Barth, very funny as the slutty supermarket checkout girl Ted starts to date; and throw in Sam J. Jones, also known as Flash Gordon himself, and you have a cannabis-soaked comedy of ingenious absurdity.

It should be noted, however, that behind all the pot jokes and potty jokes, the trippy party scenes and the aforementioned hookers (one of whom leaves a decidedly unwelcome object on John and Lori's floor), Ted is really a rather sweet examination of loyalty, friendship, and love. Wahlberg and Kunis are charming together (though not exactly in a Cary Grant / Audrey Hepburn kind of way), and both manage to play this thing - at least the challenges-of-a-serious-relationship part of this thing - straight. Which must have been hard to do when they're interfacing with a puppet, a doll.

And speaking of interfacing, there's a fight scene in a motel room - with Ted as one of the combatants - that is knockout hilarious.

MacFarlane's approach to this, his first feature, is shameless. He intros the film with a sonorous, sappy narration - delivered by Patrick Stewart (yes, Charles Xavier, Jean-Luc Picard himself) - that quickly establishes the mood of stoner irony. The writer/director delivers priceless pocket-sized pop-culture critiques, too, sizing up the worth (or lack therein) of Katy Perry, Adam Sandler, Channing Tatum, and a pantheon of today's iconic giants.

And if that's not enough, the whole thing ends with a dramatic face-off high atop a tower at Fenway Park. The Red Sox aren't playing, but that doesn't stop Wahlberg, Kunis, MacFarlane and team from hitting a home run.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies .


Directed by Seth MacFarlane. With Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale, Seth MacFarlane, Giovanni Ribisi. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 46 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use).