A sequel to the 2012 walking, talking, swearing teddy bear buddy comedy, Ted 2 feels both packed and stretched.
It takes skill to combine a scattergun approach with an obvious template. Trying to tackle as many comedic targets as possible while sticking to the same uncouth underdog formula over and over again is what Seth MacFarlane does best, though the first can be hit and miss, and the second grating. Sometimes his style of humour works, as seen in animated television series Family Guy. Sometimes it doesn't, as demonstrated by the writer/director's last cinema effort, A Million Ways To Die In The West. When it reached movie screens in 2012, Ted fell somewhere in the middle. In his walking, talking, swearing teddy offering, MacFarlane found just enough ways to not only have fun with the concept, but to weave it into an intermittently sweet yet standard buddy comedy – and garnered just enough laughs to justify a sequel.
As the surprise-hit first outing established, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) is louder, more foul-mouthed, and ingests larger quantities of drink and drugs than you might expect of a child's plaything. This time, he's the same sentient toy with the same hobbies, plus a wife, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth, Get Smart), and a civil rights battle. After a year of marriage brings more disharmony than bliss, the former leads to the latter, sparking the idea to have a baby to save their relationship. Ted doesn't have the parts for the job, and though his lifelong pal, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg, The Gambler), tries to steal and self-pleasure to assist, an adoption bid lands the stuffed creature in legal trouble.
Yes, Ted 2 attempts to mix slacker and man-child – or man-bear-child – laughs with a fight for fairness and justice placed on par with the abolishment of slavery and the quest for marriage equality. It's an awkward combination to say the least, and one that always comes across as purposefully boundary-pushing and tongue-in-cheek, whether or not other intentions sit at its core. Alas, in trying to satirise racism and homophobia, the film – as co-written with returning regular collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild – often doesn't do anything more than go along with the mindset it seemingly calls out. The line between undercutting something and reinforcing it is blurred in a messy effort also caught up in insult comedy, gross-out sequences, lobbing gallows humour towards controversial subjects, homages to the varied likes of Raging Bull and Jurassic Park, and giving one-line lip service to a wealth of pop culture topics.
Indeed, Ted 2 feels both packed and stretched. Everything from an impressively choreographed song-and-dance number to an over-extended series of tired set-ups at ComicCon is included, as well as a wedding, trial and road trip, yet little has any impact. As a scribe and as a helmer, MacFarlane is routinely guided by jokes rather than plot or coherence, coming up with bits and gags – celebrity cameos and random asides among them – and then trying to fit a story around them. His fondness for blatancy and repetition also rears its head too often; in his hands, it almost seems like a foregone conclusion that a movie that appropriates race relations as its basis would spend too much time on a running gag about a young white female called Sam L. Jackson.
That name belongs to the eager lawyer tasked with helping Ted's case, as played by Amanda Seyfried (While We're Young) as a stoner fantasy, a love interest for John, and a vehicle for making fun of the actress' sizeable eyes. She typifies Ted 2's treatment of most characters and topics: perfunctory at best and the butt of smirking, unsubtle – and, in MacFarlane's mind, offensive – jokes at all times. Seyfried also demonstrates the feature's lack of care for anything that isn't spitting out shock or sarcasm, or celebrating its titular bear and its creator's own talents; a visual or acting showcase, this is not. Instead, it's more of the same MacFarlane schtick at its least successful, which means it's more of his digressive rather than transgressive brand of taking aim at everything and rarely hitting anything.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Director: Seth MacFarlane
USA, 2015, 115 mins
Release date: June 25