“Ted 2” Is a Crass Act, but Not a Total Failure

Ted 2

Ted 2 (Seth MacFarlane, 2015)

Did you see (and like) Ted, Seth MacFarlane’s 2012 box-office hit? If so, the sequel could go either way for you. I hated the original film, in large part because, to me, crudeness and vulgarity, on their own, are not funny. There must be something else, beyond the scatological and obscene, to anchor the grossness in real wit. So it was much to my surprise that I found myself laughing at parts of Ted 2. MacFarlane was showing restraint! The jokes were landing without constant references to outlandish sexual acts! And then Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter) knocked over a shelf full of sperm samples, drenching himself in semen in the process, and out went that idea . . .

Still, such moments are few and far between. What we mostly get is a series of sketch-comedy bits – some of which are funny, some of which aren’t – that doesn’t add up to much of a movie, and that will probably disappoint fans of the first film, but which makes for a fairly watchable 115 minutes worth of passable, though crass (crassable?), entertainment. There’s also a rather offensive (or racially insensitive, at the very least, Morgan Freeman’s participation notwithstanding) bit of jokey equivalency between the plight of an animated bear and that of 19th-century American slave Dred Scott. Then again, this is Seth MacFarlane, after all, so offensiveness is to be expected.

What’s the story? If you remember, in the first film, young John (who would grow up to become Mark Wahlberg), one day wished that his stuffed bear would become real, and – presto! – it happened. Great premise. Squandered by fart jokes. Flash forward 20 years, and John and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) are still best buds … and drunkards, potheads and sex fiends (well, Ted, anyway). Mila Kunis (Jupiter Ascending) was along for the ride in that movie, as John’s long-suffering girlfriend who can’t compete with the furry friend. After much whore-mongering, Ted finally settled down with fellow cashier Tami-Lynn. John was left sans girlfriend, but he had his bear. You know who rules that relationship …

Ted 2 begins with the wedding of Ted and Tami-Lynn, which provides MacFarlane for all the excuse he needs for a (nicely staged and performed) song-and-dance Busby Berkeley homage (MacFarlane loves his musical moments), one of the high points of the movie. Flash forward a year, and the marriage has gone sour, so Ted and Tami-Lynn decide that the best thing for them would be to have a kid (bad idea, obviously, but played for laughs). Ted cannot procreate, since he is, well, a stuffed bear, so the couple heads to an adoption agency, an act which suddenly exposes Ted to all sorts of questions about his legal personhood, which then drives the plot of the rest of the movie (and the awkward parallels to Dred Scott), such as it is.

Really, though, this is a meandering journey through various gags. My favorites – beyond the Berkeley number – include the Liam Neeson Taken-like cameo (one of many cameos in the film) and a hilarious bit set in an improv theater where Ted yells inappropriately tragic suggestions to the flailing members of the troupe. Neeson, though, is representative of the real problem with the film, which is that there is little continuity between scenes. Given what transpires between Neeson and Ted in their moment together, it’s a missed opportunity when MacFarlane doesn’t bring the action star back at the end to save the day. But that would require screenwriting effort, and as pleasant as much of this is, it’s also fundamentally lazy.

Amanda Seyfried (While We’re Young) is the love interest (for John) this time, and she is always an agreeable screen presence. Wahlberg brings the same somnambulance to his performance here as he did in the first film, and while that gets old, it’s appropriate to the passiveness of his character. Giovanni Ribisi (Gangster Squad) is back as the villain, Donny, and thank goodness for that, as he is one of the funniest actors in the movie. So, all in all, the film is a mess, but not a failure.