Though crafted with a more mature hand, Ted 2 feels episodic rather than reinventive, and is ultimately just more of the same.
Ted 2 picks up a year or so after the events of the first film, where we find John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) and living teddy bear, Ted (voice of Seth MacFarlane), living not-so-happily-ever-after with their lovely ladies from the first film. John has divorced wife Lori (Mila Kunis), and even though Ted is now married to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), the two spend the majority of their time fighting.
The twist comes when Ted and Tami-Lynn decide to start a family. Unable to conceive, the pair file to adopt a child – an action that sets into motion a chain of bureaucratic events, culminating in a federal dispute over whether or not a living teddy bear is considered a person, with inalienable rights, or a piece of property, subject to the mandates of ownership. With an enthusiastic young stoner lawyer named Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) on their side, John and Ted endeavor to take on the legal system and make the world realize what they already know: that Ted is good peoples.
Family Guy / American Dad / Cleveland Show / A Million Ways to Die in the West… by now the Seth MacFarlane brand of comedy is well established and known. We return to the writer/director/actor/funnyman/showman’s live-action cartoon world for his first sequel, which stands first and foremost as a test of his ability carve something fresh yet familiar out of established material. Though crafted with a more mature hand, Ted 2 feels episodic rather than reinventive, and in the end is just more of the same.
On both the written and directorial fronts, Ted 2 is, admittedly, better planned and orchestrated than the first film. There is a noticeable increase in MacFarlane’s steadiness and confidence behind the camera (now on his third live-action feature-film), and a more cohesive “big picture” arc to the storyline (which was once again co-written by MacFarlane and his Family Guy collaborators, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild). That’s a marked difference from Ted’s “throw it at the wall” loose improvisational style.
For fans of MacFarlane’s animated works, I’ll put it like this: Ted 2 is to American Dad, what Ted was to Family Guy. Both are funny in their own way, but the former is likely to resonate with more people, as it uses a more traditional, sitcom-style approach to narrative, which in turn helps to balance out the raunchy, crass humor that MacFarlane can’t help but unleash upon every known target in a 360° radius.
A better balance of heart, mind and dirty jokes makes Ted 2 a good film overall; but it’s also, ironically, the same thing that dulls the edge of the humor, potentially robbing some viewers coming to the R-rated comedy (expecting the boundary to get pushed) of what they thought they were paying for: gust-busting inappropriate laughs. There’s plenty of chuckle-worthy humor centered around the usual comedic offenders (bodily fluids, genitalia, race, and gender) – but MacFarlane (ever the loving student of cinema) can’t help but over-ape Law & Order courtroom procedural style, filling Ted 2 with semi-serious courtroom drama that actually manages to echo real themes of discrimination, identity and recognition of rights in the eyes of the state. Again, it’s a sign of maturity in MacFarlane’s storytelling sensibilities as a filmmaker, but the feeling of irreverence that made a foul-mouthed talking teddy bear so fun in the first film is sacrificed as a result. Seeing throwaway moments like Ted playing around with an otherwise serious courtroom judge just lands as more out-of-place silly, than funny.
Still, Mark Wahlberg and his CGI co-star (MacFarlane) haven’t lost a step since the first film. Ted 2 changes things up by placing its namesake at the forefront, rather than John; so, this time out, Wahlberg is given the much easier task of playing backboard to his zany co-star. MacFarlane is more comfortable and earnest in the role of Ted, not having to push the concept of a dirty-talking bear so hard – but it’s another improvement that comes with sacrifice. Wahlberg was actually a driving force of the comedy in the first installment; not so much here, since aside from a few quick gags, John is mostly just backdrop for Ted’s journey.
Amanda Seyfried is in much the same boat as Wahlberg. While it was understandable why Mila Kunis’ Lori was into John, and the love interest felt like a real woman, Sam is, conversely, just a construct. The filmmakers try to inject Sam with some “flaws” (She’s inexperienced as a lawyer, oh my! She knows nothing about movies? Gasp!), but it’s hard not to notice that Sam’s “cool girl” attributes (Smokes weed, plays a mean guitar – can deliver Oscar-caliber courtroom speeches) pretty much transform her into something more akin to idealized male fantasy, rather than an actual character. Seyfried is charming at just being there, and even though she really doesn’t do any comedic lifting, she’s another suitable backboard for MacFarlane’s Ted to bounce one-liners and gags off of (and he gets some good ones at her expense).
Jessica Barth’s Tami-Lynn is a bit more comedic and dynamic – for as long as the film allows her to be, before sporadically sidelining her so that the John/Ted/Sam adventure can progress (why a trio was better than a foursome, is unknown).
MacFarlane has a well-established penchant for pop-culture references and celebrity cameos in his projects, and Ted 2 continues that tradition with some fun re-appearances from the first film, as well as some new additions that will be great for fans of films and/or MacFarlane’s animated universe. Flash Gordon star Sam L. Jones is back in the mix, as is Giovanni Ribisi’s Ted stalker, Donny. Early marketing has already spoiled big appearances from the likes of quarterback Tom Brady or golden-voiced actor Morgan Freeman – but there are some additional appearances to discover, or fun Easter eggs like actors Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn riffing on iconic roles they’ve played. The climax of the film takes place on location at New York Comic-Con, so you can probably guess that geek or pop-culture shoutouts and gags are not in short supply.
In the end, Ted 2 is a fine episode of entertaining, bawdy, comedy from the Seth MacFarlane factory. And, like any good sitcom, it leaves the characters in a place that’s suitably satisfying (should it be our last visit) – though we wouldn’t mind checking in on them again, down the line. Whether or not that level of response is enough to justify a big-budget movie threequel remains to be seen – but overall, there’s no harm in spending an afternoon matinee with your old bud Ted again.
Ted 2 is now in theaters. It is 115 minutes long and is Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use.
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