Despite having little affection for either the comedy stylings of Seth Macfarlane or the acting career in general of Mark Wahlberg, I ended up being quite fond of Ted. Macfarlane’s propensity towards hollow shock value, vulgarity and incessant, context-free pop culture references were softened by the need to develop actual characters in telling a story across a feature-length period of time (not that he paid much heed in his subsequent, abysmal directorial follow-up, A Million Ways To Die In The West) and Wahlberg’s willingness to send up his tough guy image whilst playing opposite a foul-mouthed teddy made an instantly charming partnership.
The good news is that Ted 2 offers more of the same. Wahlberg is on stupendous form and his riffing with Macfarlane’s Ted continues to be a seemingly inexhaustible source of laughs. On the downside, as was the case for Pitch Perfect 2, more of the same and nothing more feels decidedly underwhelming in the wake of an unexpectedly strong first outing. Ted 2 isn’t short of terrific sight gags and humour at once utterly filthy and delightfully childish, but lacks the spark of joy and surprise which, like the eponymous bear, elevated the original to something greater than its component parts.
Director: Seth Macfarlane
Release Date: June 26th, 2015
At the centre of the plot is a civil rights allegory in which Ted, wishing to conceive a child with his new wife, Tami-Lyn, discovers that the State does not legally consider him a person and has revoked all his rights. With the help of an aspiring lawyer (Amanda Seyfried), whose lack of pop cultural knowledge is more than made up for by an avid enthusiasm for weed, he and John travel to the Supreme Court to get the ruling overturned. Despite being atrociously argued every step of the way, there’s no doubting the sincerity of the movie’s attempt to raise pertinent and serious social issues, but in doing so, the movie is starkly divided between the relatively seriously handled courtroom scenes and the juvenile silliness piling up elsewhere. It’s a credibly ambitious plot for an otherwise by-the-numbers sequel, but gracelessly handled in a way which drags the movie down whenever it comes up in any meaningful capacity.
Seyfried also struggles to find her place or find any life for a character who never adds up as a credible human being. While there’s no reason an aspiring lawyer couldn’t imbibe copious quantities of drugs in her downtime, from a dick-shaped bong no less, she shares a similar problem to the courtroom scenes in that she seems a completely different person when we’re expected to respect her competence in a professional capacity. Macfarlane also puts her at the centre of a number of mean-spirited jabs directed at Lori, John’s romantic interest in the previous movie and now ex-wife. Lori was of course played by Mila Kunis, Macfarlane’s own ex, and the constant references to what a bad fit she was for John and how much she tried to change him only come across as Macfarlane allowing his personal issues to bleed into the screenplay.
Fortunately, when the movie pulls back to the core of what made the first one work, the relationship between Thuderbuddies John and Ted, everything clicks back into place. The hit rate of the jokes isn’t especially high, but the sheer number means laughs come fairly regularly regardless. The best of these are the quick cutaways or short, sharp surprises, such as a magnificent sight gag involving a glass table, assaulting joggers with apples or Ted popping out of a drawer to randomly punch John in the face. The fact Wahlberg reacts as though he’s been hit by a bulldozer only makes it all the more delightfully mad, and his commitment to selling every stupid line and humiliation builds to a fever pitch of idiotic effervescence. Macfarlane makes a terrific sparring partner, aided by Ted’s delightfully expressive animation, and while some of the jokes are stretched out far beyond their reasonable limit – one involving harvesting Tom Brady’s sperm goes on for minutes when it would be much more effective delivered as a one-shot cutaway – any scene the two share together is immediately among the movie’s best and funniest.
It’s a shame the strength of the core relationship is so routinely undermined by Macfarlane’s self-indulgence, not only through the extensive prolonging of certain jokes, but in artificially halting the movie right at the beginning for a thoroughly uninspired old-timey song and dance number, in recalling Giovanni Ribsi as Donny, one of the worst parts of the first movie, to provide an unneeded additional antagonist, or in pop culture references that feel increasingly half-hearted. There’s nothing here as glorious as John’s mauling of Rita Coolidge’s All Time High, for instance. John and Ted work so well together that they just about hold everything in place and some of the one-liners, particularly one about the Kardashians, are so depraved they verge on being applause-worthy. As hard as the movie is to dislike, however, a return visit to the Tedverse only makes its faultlines increasingly apparent.