Ted 2Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/25/15 10:28:59
The original "Ted," you will recall, told the story of an ordinary teddy bear that came to life thanks to the wish of John, the little boy that received him as a Christmas present, and developed into a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking horndog who was still hanging out with his now-grown buddy nearly 30 years later. Essentially a exceptionally perverse riff on what might have otherwise been a mid-level Amblin Entertainment production of the mid-Eighties (landing somewhere between "Harry and the Hendersons" and "batteries not included" on the qualitative scale), the film had a few funny bits here and there but was essentially a one-joke proposition that was shakily buttressed by the shock humor and pop cultural references that have long been the stock-in-trade of creator Seth MacFarlane, the man behind the likes of "Family Guy," "American Dad" and countless impersonations by drunken frat boys every Saturday night. I admit that I laughed a few times--so many jokes were thrown at the screen that a few of them eventually had to hit--but as someone who has never found MacFarlane and his output to be that amusing, I found the whole enterprise to be more tedious than anything else.As it turns out, I was apparently in the minority as this paean to arrested adolescence shocked observers by pulling in an astounding $550 million throughout the world and becoming one of the highest grossing R-rated films ever made. With grosses of that size, I have no doubt that Universal Pictures was clamoring for a sequel within hours of the first film's spectacular opening--and even stuck with it after MacFarlane followed it up with the colossal critical and commercial misfire "A Million Ways to Die in the West"--but what avenues could a follow-up follow that weren't already pursued the first time around? Send him to London to investigate a jewel robbery a la "The Great Muppet Caper"? Take a page from Charlie Kaufman and off to Hollywood to supervise the making of a movie of his life and wonder why he sounds like Peter Griffin? Go back to the well for a virtual retread of everything that evidently worked the first time around with a half-assed stab at a lesson about civil rights haphazardly jammed in to bring some socially redeeming value to the proceedings in the vein of the abstract political discussion that ended Russ Meyer's landmark skinflick "Vixen" after an hour or so of the Good Parts? (Meyer used to say that as soon as the characters got on the airplane, viewers could safely leave the theater without worrying about missing anything.) In a move that will presumably shock no one, "Ted 2" goes for the third choice without a moment's hesitation and the result is yet another supremely lazy comedy sequel that is content to tell viewers the same old jokes once again, only bigger, dumber and grosser than before, and even the biggest fans of the first film may find this one to be more tiresome than amusing.
To get an early indication of the half-assed nature of "Ted 2," consider how it handles the absence of Mila Kunis, who co-starred in the original as the long-suffering girlfriend of John (Mark Wahlberg) who tried to encourage him to grow up at long last and who had to drop out of this project when she became pregnant. Since the majority of the people attending the film will most likely know ahead of time that Kunis is not in it, why not have some fun with the explanation in a manner that winkingly references other mysterious screen absences? Instead, MacFarlane and co-writers Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild let us know right at the top that even though they were together four years and got married at the end of the first film, they split up only a few months after the wedding because she kept trying to change John--now she is gone and the heartbroken John can no longer trust another woman, preferring to drown himself in Internet porn. Not only does this explanation come across as needlessly harsh and insulting, it also manages to pretty much invalidate much of the point of the first film at the same time.
From a relationship standpoint, Ted (still voiced by MacFarlane) is not doing much better at the moment. As the film opens, he and girlfriend Tammi-Lynn (Jessica Barth) have just tied the knot--with former Flash Gordon Sam Jones again presiding since that joke never gets old--but a year later, the two are constantly squabbling and seem on the verge of breaking up themselves until Ted hits upon a foolproof idea to save the marriage by the two of them having a child. Of course, Ted is not exactly equipped to father a kid and this leads to he and John attempting to steal a sample of Tom Brady's essence directly from the source and a trip to a fertility clinic where John winds up having several gallons of samples spilled on and in him. (Don't worry, they were all rejected donations from people with sickle-cell anemia, tee-hee.)
Eventually, he and Tami-Lynn attempt to adopt (it turns out her womb is grotesquely polluted, ho-ho) but this action proves to be disastrous since the state of Massachusetts has determined that Ted is property, not a person, and is quickly stripped of his marriage, job and his identity. Outraged, he and John decide to sue the state to regain his civil rights and this leads them to Sam(antha) L. Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), an ambitious and pop-culture-ignorant law school grad who takes them for her very first case in between hits from her ever-present bong. While the three try to prepare their case as John and Sam begin to make googly eyes at each other (admittedly, Sam has no choice in the matter), Donnie (Giovanni Ribisi), the creepy weirdo who tried to kidnap Ted in the first film, returns to collaborate with the head of Hasbro (John Carroll Lynch) on a diabolical plan to kidnap Ted and cut him open in the hopes of discovering what makes him tick and making millions of them for all kids to have.
There are so many things wrong with "Ted 2" that even the most deliberately measured analysis of its mistakes runs the risk of devolving into a virulent tirade. However, the most glaringly inescapable flaw is the simple fact that now that we have gotten to know Ted and gotten used to the sight of Wahlberg interacting with a CGI bear that indulges in as many vices as possible through the first film, we are essentially seeing him for the first time here and, to be frank, he is pretty much a loser and a jerk. Now I realize that it is silly to get worked up over a character created out of 1's and 0's and enough vulgarities to fuel an Internet chat room for a day or two but the simple fact of the matter that he isn't so much a bear as he is a boor. If the film were willing to recognize the fact that he is an ass, that might be acceptable but it wants us to find his frat-boy loathsomeness the height of hilarity. For example, early in the film, there is an argument between him and Tami-Lynn about her overspending on fancy outfits at Filene's Basement but instead of connecting with the actual amusement on display--the idea that one could possibly overspend at Filene's Basement--it just descends into him calling her "whore" over and over and calling a woman a bitch for having the nerve to interfere. This is bad enough but it becomes intolerable in the later scenes when Ted is fighting for his rights and the film tries to position this fur-bearing lout--who by this point has already offended virtually every race, gender, religion, nationality and sexual preference that you could possibly think off--as a genuinely oppressed minority that we are meant to sympathize with to the point where Morgan Freeman is dragged into the final scenes to champion Ted's alleged human qualities.
Another problem with "Ted 2" is the inescapable fact that it just isn't very funny, a condition that strikes most comedy sequels and which is especially acute here. Since the intrinsic comedic value of a foul-mouthed toy is now inescapably gone, a new vein of humor needed to be mined but MacFarlane instead has gone back to his usual bag of tricks--either he has a character say something outrageous or potentially shocking (including "black cocks," "sickle-cell anemia," or a trip to see an improv group who receive such suggestions as "9/11," "Robin Williams" and "Ferguson") just to get a rise out of viewers or he makes an arcane pop-culture reference (including scenes designed to look like moments from "The Breakfast Club," "Thief" and "Raging Bull," a faux-"SNL" skit as desperately unfunny as the real thing and a moment where the laugh is meant to come from someone uttering the words "Big League Chew"). The outrageous stuff isn't funny because he is trying so hard to shock that he neglects to make the comments count comedically and the pop culture bits fall flat because he assumes that simply making the reference is funny instead of doing anything with it.
There is also a sense of smugness that so permeates the proceedings that even if the jokes were funny, they would still be overwhelmed by MacFarlane's clumsy filmmaking style. It feels as if he has gotten to the point where he believes that every bit that he and his pals dream up is pure comedic gold that he will allow to play out no matter what. As a result, a film that probably should not have clocked in at more than 90-100 minutes tops comes in at two hours thanks to scenes that are stretched to absurd length (such as a cameo from a big star that seems to go on forever to tell one not-very-funny joke and a finale at Comic-con that goes nowhere) or which should have been eliminated in the first place (such as the entire subplot involving the Donnie characters, an utterly pointless narrative arc that feels like a vestige from an earlier draft that accidentally made it into the final script and no one noticed until it was too late. One might have thought that the disastrous reception to "A Million Ways to Die in the West" would have tempered MacFarlane's self-indulgent tendencies but that is not the case here and the result is a clunky work featuring a lot of familiar faces who deserve much better material than they have been given here. Except Tom Brady, of course--he doesn't even deserve this.I did laugh a couple of times while watching "Ted 2," though I should note that it has been less than a day since I saw it and I nevertheless cannot actually recall any of those specific moments save for a cheap but funny shot at Amanda Seyfried's eyes that is then run into the ground with overuse. For the most part, however, I found it to be a tedious slog that is never as clever or as witty or as daring as it seems to think that it is. Of course, I said many of those same things about the original "Ted" and that went on to become a mammoth success that spawned this sequel so there is an excellent chance that history may once again repeat itself and that "Ted 3" may be turning up in a couple of years. If that is the case, I think I have found a foolproof way to get out of that project without ruffling feathers? Anyone out there have Ashton Kutcher's phone number?
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