The defining moment of Ted 2 comes about two-thirds of the way in, when our heroes and their ladies decide to visit an improv club. The idea? Get drunk and shout “sad” suggestions to the performers onstage. Before this sequence, this sequel to Seth MacFarlane’s surprise hit of two years ago offers much of the same old scatology. There’s an intriguing subtext about tolerance and inequality, but it often gets overshadowed by dick jokes and (literal) semen gags.
But then our talking bear (voiced by MacFarlane), his wife Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), best friend and “thunder buddy for life”, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) and the lawyer they have hired, Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) head over to the comedy club and, suddenly, Ted 2 takes a turn toward something it hasn’t been since this Boston-accented toy came to life: it becomes subversive. John Waters subversive. So much enjoyable bad taste subversive.
Sadly, the movie retreats from this position to make screenplay expert Syd Field proud. Indeed, the third act requires the return of a favorite (?) villain (Giovanni Ribisi’s ridiculous Donny), the introduction of an obvious one (Hasbro) and a chase through New York Comic-Con which barely taps into the locale’s inherent comedy potential. Surrounded by thousands of geeks and a myriad of possible pop culture target, the best the movie can do is fall back on the old “jocks vs. nerds” ideal that no longer holds the same laugh-out-loud legitimacy.
In fact, most of Ted 2 is just familiar fun. When it moves outside its comfort zone, mocking everything from courtroom dramas to John Hughes films, it’s refreshingly vulgar. It’s like a collection of cultural riffs set to a teenage boy’s hormone-driven imagination. If you liked the first movie, you’ll like this one as well. If you expected more from the man (and staff) who’ve milked Family Guy for every last ratings point, then you’re the fool. The Civil Rights angle is a ruse, a way of getting the focus off John and Ted’s past and into a weird argument about property vs. persondom that never quite has the impact the filmmakers intend.
You see, Ted marries Tami-Lynn and are looking to have a baby. When the State of Massachusetts gets wind of this idea, they decide to come down hard on the anthropomorphic kid’s plaything and declare it “property”. Hoping to find some help, our hero grabs John (who is moping around, licking his wounds over the divorce from his wife Lori — Mila Kunis is MIA here) and looks for a lawyer. They find Sam, a pot smoking neophyte, who instantly syncs up with Ted’s buddy’s sad sack routine. They fight the State for Ted’s rights, face several setbacks, and conclude the confusion with a bunch of celebrity cameos and shout outs to other, better films.
Yep, it’s another grab bag of sketches and skits, half-baked ideas turned fully cooked thanks to an amiable cast and a solid central conceit. Because he’s not “real”, because he exists in a cinematic universe where people are nonplused by the idea of a talking teddy bear, Ted can get away with almost anything. He’s a crass, crude prick who says what he thinks, and doesn’t give a damn for the consequences. This allows the director and co-screenwriter in MacFarlane to find new and novel ways of getting a joke across. Ted can handle sight gags. He can also call out Tyler Perry and not be considered racist.
Buried beneath the balls and bong hits is an intriguing idea, one that has resonance right now. As the movie makes perfectly clear, there was another time when the government was shouting “property” over certain parts of our country (the pre-Civil War days) and justice was a little late coming to the table to clear things up. Ted 2 wants to remember that debate (MacFarlane is a major league liberal), as well as how contemporary society still sees things in basic black and white (or perhaps, better put, color and Caucasian). But this movie isn’t brash enough to take on the last 400 years. Instead, it name-checks important points in the past and then gets back to making fart noises.
Most of the elements here work. Ted and Tami-Lynn have a relationship you can identify with, their marital problems familiar to anyone who is under-employed and overtaxed. Seyfried is equally game, allowing MacFarlane and his cast riff on her unusual good looks (there are several sensation asides about her eyes) and her proclivity toward toking (it’s for medical reasons; she gets migraines). Even Flash Gordon himself, Sam J. Jones, finds yet another way to make his aging ’80s icon status fresh and new cast members include Morgan Freeman (as a high profile Civil Rights lawyer) and Mad Men‘s John Slattery (as counsel for the State) incorporate themselves quite nicely.
The one lagging loose end here is Wahlberg. In the first film, he was an one man party playing at responsibility. Here, for most of the running time, he’s a drip. He’s down. He’s dejected. He can’t get over his divorce. Usually, Wahlberg is a terrific presence, a fine addition to any film. Here, we learn a valuable lesson: he can’t do depressed. It comes across as lax and completely devoid of any reason to care. In fact, when he’s off screen, when Ted and Tami-Lynn or Ted and Sam are interacting, the film feels lighter. Luckily, by that moment in the improv club, Wahlberg gets his groove back, becoming tolerable the rest of the way.
A comedy is only as successful as its jokes, and in this regard, Ted 2 is terrific. It’s uproariously funny with just enough sprinkling of social satire to stretch this already thin premise into a satisfying sequel. While it’s hard to imagine a Ted 3 arriving anytime soon, don’t be surprised if it does eventually get the greenlight. This smut-mouthed sensation has already made two films work. As long as they keep the fur flying, so to speak, Ted will always be hilarious.