Release Date: June 26th, 2015 (US); July 8th, 2015 (UK)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried
After another so-so opening narration dulcetly delivered by Patrick Stewart, Ted 2 dives into a random dance scene. It’s somewhere between peculiar and unexciting, like a Twin Peaks dream sequence but with all the giant men and shimmying dwarves removed in favour of industrial, high-concept choreography. The scene sort of reflects the film as a whole — a rudimentary and rude affair, though not especially interesting or funny. There’s a just because attitude prevalent throughout, where things happen, y’know, just because.
Mark Wahlberg is back as John Bennett, no longer in a relationship with Mila Kunis’ character from the first film. In fairness, writer-director Seth MacFarlane avoids taking shots at Kunis’ non-appearance (it’s probably the only easy route he sidesteps). The utility man voices Ted, whose attempt to start a family with his new wife Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) brings into question his humanness.
Though Ted 2 has a few — I counted three — genuinely guffawful moments, MacFarlane’s script just isn’t up to scratch. Often the best comedy outputs are those which pierce the soul of society, but there is hardly anything here that threatens to combine humour, intellect and relevance. In what feels like a hurried, anxiety-fuelled quest to toss lazy gags at an ideas board, gay sex jokes and clichéd story arcs become default bullseyes.
After much romantic toing and froing, MacFarlane realises that he needs to get his A-listers — Wahlberg and Amanda Seyfried — together pronto, therefore he has them literally smash through an isolated barn at night. What follows is a campfire sing-along (thankfully someone brought their guitar on the four hour road trip), a lot of deep eye staring, and a sleepover under the stars. Or, simply put, more dreary clichés than anyone can handle.
Going into Ted 2 you have to expect an onslaught of harshness because that’s the kind of comedy MacFarlane knows. It is true that comedy should be democratic in its aim, unafraid to throw punches at touchy subject matters in the right context. Whereas there is no place for a Bill Cosby quip in a frothy family piece, that echelon of joke can work in a smart, R-rated setting. But when the jokes aren’t funny — and they mostly aren’t — any protective mist dissolves and MacFarlane’s unfortunate scapegoats are left in full view.
Homosexual jests are a mainstay, and nerd culture takes a hit too. We even hear a particularly iffy remark about feeding a special needs child. Because it’s not funny, there is nothing to harness the underlying cruelty. Mainly however, MacFarlane’s script evades controversy and is instead just lazy. A scene involving Liam Neeson, where he tries to buy children’s cereal at the supermarket, embodies this staleness. Neeson, playing himself, doesn’t know if buying children’s cereal is legal, so he speaks in his recognisably hushed voice to avoid raising attention. It’s Liam Neeson though. He’s a tough guy yet he likes juvenile food. Get it?
Other tired gags include a FOX News parody that is only funny if you dislike FOX News (I giggled), and Ted insinuating he once spent time as a prostitute to make ends meet. When the film works in a comedic sense it uses fresher avenues as a basis, i.e. taking pot-shots at the probable woes faced by improv artists on a nightly basis. Even simple yet exquisitely timed irreverent humour can prove prosperous, such as an incident involving glass table. We just don’t get enough of these moments.
Ted’s height works for cinematographer Michael Barrett, who occasionally manages to shoot the bear from behind Tami-Lynn when the duo are conversing. Fitting. The film is technically well-made, and the computer-generated Ted blends effectively with his surroundings. MacFarlane, having juggled just about every other aspect of filmmaking, gives it his best as the voice of Ted, though why he chose a Bostonian Peter Griffin sound is still baffling.
As the returning foe, Giovanni Ribisi is the most enjoyable actor to watch. He plays the creepy Donny, this time employed by Hasbro as a janitor, his sly performance reminiscent of the scheming zoo keeper from Friends (which Ribisi also guest starred in). Amanda Seyfried is another engaging screen presence, playing against type — sort of — as a recreationally drugged up lawyer. She doesn’t have much to do; her law skills are increasingly sidelined with icky romance preferred. Mark Wahlberg is fine too but his elevated stupidity is less amusing this time around. Someone involved must have dirt on Morgan Freeman.
In an attempt to balance levity with gravity, meagre topical references to US race relations and minority struggles are somewhat invoked during Ted’s court battle. However the writing isn’t smart enough, and as such all we’re left with is a magical teddy bear using a lawyer to argue his humanity in court. Only when Ted presses his chest button and an automated “I love you” message rings out does he — and everyone else — realise he is a toy. It’s that kind of suspend-your-disbelief movie, but there is nobody or nothing to believe in. Thus attempts to satirically mirror weighty societal issues fall flat.
Picking out movie references passes the time, although you get the sense that these are part of an indecisive and fragmented script. There is Raging Bull — Ted wears a dirty vest at the dinner table as he engages in plate-throwing shouting match with Tami-Lynn; Jurassic Park — one of the film’s few humorous moments replaces amazing dinosaurs with amazing marijuana plants; The Breakfast Club — we see some sideways shuffling in the library as part of a musical montage; and Pulp Fiction — Ted and John are shot from below as the gawk at Tom Brady’s glowing genitals. In reflection, a ninety minute outing made up entirely of movie references would have been more fun to sit through.
Ted 2 is a generally humourless, invariably bland sequel though, one that will probably make a truckload at the box office (it hasn’t, reassuringly). “We’re giving you the tools buddy. Come on, make some fucking comedy!” Ted bellows at one point. If MacFarlane values personal artistic merit, he should heed his own advice.
Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures