One movie about a profane, weed-smoking talking teddy bear with a voice that’s semitone away from Peter Griffin was one thing. But two? Really? Yes, really, since the only thing in the world more powerful than a child’s wish to make his stuffed friend alive is the power of a modestly-budgeted film making a ton of money at the box office. It’s not all bad, mind you. Parts of it are actually quite funny and occasionally quite smart when it isn’t being juvenile and tasteless, but in the end it is mostly superfluous.
This new film in the Ted saga opens a year after the first one ended, with the titutar teddy bear (voice of writer/director Seth MacFarlane) finally getting married to his girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Melissa Barth). Things aren’t going quite as well for Ted’s buddy John (Mark Wahlberg), who is still sore after his divorce from his wife Lori (since Mila Kunis’ absence from the returning cast had to be explained). When Ted and Tami-Lynn decide to have a baby, they run into trouble from the government, who declares Ted to be property and not a person. Junior lawyer Samantha L. Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) helps Ted and John sue the government to prove Ted’s personhood. There are also a lot of dick jokes.
If you liked the first Ted for its crude humor and trademark MacFarlane pop culture asides, you’re probably going to like Ted 2. If you liked the first Ted for its mischievous charm and its exploration of what it means to be an adult, you’re going to be less amused. MacFarlane and his writing team have in true sitcom essentially hit the reset button on all the character development from the first film. After all, it would have been hard to have the relatively more mature Ted and John believably engage in the sophomoric hijinks that make up the bulk of Ted 2’s runtime. Although I guess when your big Act 1 set piece is Mark Wahlberg getting doused in a good portion of a sperm bank’s backstock, believability isn’t your biggest concern.
It’s kind of a shame because the film starts off on a promising high note. Ted’s wedding party segues into an opening credit scene that looks like the Family Guy opening theme crossed with “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.” It’s a big, elaborate number that’s stunning in its complex choreography, a love letter to the musicals MacFarlane loves so much. However, after that point everything else in the film seems a bit cheaper and lazier, and nothing even comes close to matching the excitement in those two minutes, although it isn’t like MacFarlane doesn’t throw everything he’s got into it.
While the film is genuinely funny at times, even when it’s being crude, it suffers from MacFarlane’s over-reliance on pop culture gags. While those gags often served the story in the first film, here they seem like a crutch. An extended homage to The Breakfast Club falls completely flat, and the first act is overloaded with pointless celebrity cameos (although Liam Neeson’s cameo is admittedly quite humorous). It reaches a kind of apotheosis in a climactic/anti-climactic cosplay brawl at New York Comic Con, a scene that’s as aimless and unfocused as the opening number was tight and thrilling.
Where MacFarlane falters the most, at least in comparison to the first film, is when he tries to compare Ted’s personhood case to the landmark civil rights cases of the past. Sam even cites Dred Scott in her opening statement, and like the rest of the scenes regarding Ted's case, it's often done completely without irony like an excerpt from a very special episode of Law & Order: Teddy Bears Unit. While it’s an easy comparison to make, and MacFarlane most likely has his very liberal heart in the right place, it comes off as painfully tonedeaf even if it is being delivered by a potty-mouthed, petulant teddy bear. It’s saved almost entirely from being truly offensive by a kind of off-handed bit where Ted compares his plight to Kunta Kinte while he and John watch Roots, and John immediately tells him no, it’s not the same thing at all.
At least the cast delivers everything well. MacFarlane and Wahlberg are just as good as they were in the first film, even if their characters appear to have lost several IQ points along the way. John’s arrested development is never shown as anything but positive, but at least Wahlberg makes a very appealing man-child and MacFarlane an appealing foil/personified id. Amanda Seyfried fills in the role Mila Kunis vacated as John’s potential love interest and audience surrogate, but Sam isn’t as much of a challenge as Lori was to John’s immaturity and seems more like a bit of a fantasy: the smart lawyer chick who smokes weed and won’t ask her boyfriend to give up his toys. Seyfried has proven that she’s nothing if not game, and she rarely approaches a role without committing to it. Her dedication into finding extra dimensions in Sam’s character goes a long, long way to easing the rocky parts of the film.
For some reason, though, MacFarlane thought it was hilarious to reward the very pretty Seyfried’s professionalism by comparing Sam to Gollum three times in the space of 30 minutes just because her eyes are a little big. In fact, MacFarlane repeats himself a lot in this film. A joke about everything on the internet being “two clicks away from black cocks” was mildly amusing the first time, not so much the second, third, or fourth times. A good deal of the humor seems mean-spirited, as well (see above re: Gollum), and when the two are combined in the overlong and wildly self-indulgent Comic Con segment, it becomes ridiculously tedious.
While it was probably too much to ask MacFarlane to recapture the same wit, charm, and intelligence that categorized the first film, it’s still not an excuse for a film that seems less like a narrative and more like MacFarlane feeding all of the R-rated impulses he can’t get on TV. Even that wouldn’t be so bad if the result wasn’t at least 15 minutes too long and full of padding (a subplot about Hasbro trying to throw Ted’s trial so that it can reclaim him as their lost property comes out of nowhere and stays there). With a bit more editorial control and a bit less reliance on gay panic jokes, the film could have been nearly as good as its predecessor. It’s funny and all, sometimes extremely funny, but it often seems as rough and worn as the plastic nose on Ted’s face.
FBOTU Score: 6 out of 10 / C+