As the pop-culture-addled brain behind Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane has carved out his niche as a genius of throw-everything-against-the-wall humour. That scattershot sensibility is all over his first feature, with punchlines involving Katy Perry, Susan Boyle, Lance Armstrong’s cancerous testicle, the theme to Octopussy and – in the film’s most fertile running joke – the cheesetastic glory of 1980’s Flash Gordon whizzing by at warp speed. MacFarlane may be the only filmmaker who’ll ape the Zucker brothers and make an actual Zuckers reference (one scene quotes Airplane!’s homage to Saturday Night Fever – a triple meta score!) but the real comic payoff lies in Ted’s simple conceit: a lonely boy miraculously wishes his teddy bear into becoming a real live friend. Cut to 30 years later, the now-grown man (Mark Wahlberg) is doing bong hits and talking f-bombed trash with his furry buddy (voiced by MacFarlane), much to the consternation of his long-suffering girlfriend (Mila Kunis).
You can’t overestimate how surprisingly funny it is to watch a stuffed bear behave boorishly. But while the adherence to Family Guy’s obsessive-compulsive offensiveness and tangential-gag methodology will delight the show’s fans, others may find such incessant riffing grafted on to an Apatovian narrative about immaturity to be a mismatched coupling. You can leave childish things behind, Ted tells us, without having to give up the friendships forged during those years. MacFarlane may need to jettison his adolescent belief that cramming every moment with two winks and a zinger exponentially ups the funny before he can hit his real artistic stride.
From Time Out New York
Dir Seth MacFarlane, category IIB, 106 mins, opens on Thu Sep 27