Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use.
Running time: 115 minutes.
Two and a half stars out of four.
If you liked the original “Ted,” Seth MacFarlane’s 2012 surprise smash about a pot-smoking, potty-mouthed teddy bear, then you will probably like “Ted 2.” It is essentially the exact same movie, and more — and less.
As director, co-writer and star, MacFarlane offers a lot of the same kind of brash and ballsy humor that is his trademark. Nothing is off limits. No one is spared. So if you have a problem with a slapsticky pratfall involving scads of semen, followed by a wildly inappropriate joke about sickle cell anemia, followed by a crass Kardashian reference (and it’s a loooong way to go for that punchline), then you should probably look elsewhere.
I’ll admit, I laughed at that joke — and at a lot of the jokes in “Ted 2” — but I’m also a longtime fan of MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” for its energy, daring, rapid-fire pop-culture references and a willingness to go anywhere for a gag. (Our child can recite, verbatim, the entire Brian and Stewie “Cool Whip” exchange. We’re good parents.)
Along with fellow screenwriters and frequent collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, MacFarlane throws a lot of stuff at the wall. Not all of it sticks. But when it does stick, it works like crazy. As in his television work and the original “Ted,” some of the best bits here are the random non sequiturs, flashbacks and fantasy sequences. My favorite joke in the whole movie involves Ted and his human best friend, John (Mark Wahlberg), going to an improv comedy club to yell depressing suggestions to the performers on stage. It’s a clever and bizarre idea, well-executed.
Having said that, “Ted 2” is also overlong, repetitive and self-indulgent. In trying to offer a substantial dramatic plot line about civil rights alongside the raunchy comedy, its reach exceeds its grasp. And as in last summer’s ambitious failure “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “Ted 2” makes you wish there were someone around to rein MacFarlane in and hone his instincts. There’s a brisk and irresistible 95-minute movie somewhere in here, but as is so often the case, MacFarlane cannot contain his excesses, and it seems there’s no one around him who can stop them, either.
The delightful wrongness of the central premise remains strong, however. Ted (whom MacFarlane voices in a thick, New England accent identical to Peter Griffin’s) has married his girlfriend, gum-chomping grocery cashier Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). But John is now divorced from his wife (Mila Kunis, unseen here), and in no time, Ted is having marital troubles of his own.
He and Tami-Lynn make the always-wise decision to have a baby to save the union, but since Ted is a teddy bear, he lacks the equipment to impregnate her. When trying to find a sperm donor fails to work — including a truly uncomfortable visit to Tom Brady’s house in the middle of the night in one of the film’s many celebrity cameos — they try to adopt. But then that doesn’t work either when Massachusetts state officials decide that Ted isn’t an actual person, but rather a piece of property.
This leads John and Ted to seek the help of young, up-and-coming lawyer (and fellow stoner) Sam L. Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), who agrees to work pro bono to prove that Ted is indeed a person. Sam doesn’t know who Samuel L. Jackson is — and doesn’t get any pop-culture reference these guys throw at her — because she actually studied and immersed herself in the classics and didn’t waste her youth sitting on her ass on the couch watching bad television. MacFarlane’s detractors often accuse him of misogyny, but as was the case with Charlize Theron’s character in “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” Seyfried’s character is the smartest and most capable person in the room at all times. Forcing her into a romantic subplot with Wahlberg’s John seems needless, but Seyfried is game for whatever comes her way.
Despite her comic abilities, though, Seyfried is also stuck with some of the heavier material, especially in long, droning courtroom scenes that seriously bog down the film’s momentum. MacFarlane may try to enliven some of these moments with a spontaneous song or a profane outburst, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this kind of meaty writing — this desire to Say Something Important — is beyond him and his team. Connections to civil rights fights throughout history, harkening all the way to the atrocities of slavery, seem poorly planned and tenuous. Maybe he’s aiming for satire, but he never truly hits his mark.
But wait, there’s more. “Ted 2” features another subplot in which Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), the creepy dad from the original “Ted,” tries to kidnap the bear at New York Comic-Con to present him to the head of Hasbro (John Carroll Lynch) as the basis for mass production. Nothing in this story line is ever funny or suspenseful; it could have been jettisoned entirely.
“Ted 2” begins in much more lively and promising fashion than its eventual ending, however, with a wedding-themed, Busby Berkeley-style production number during the opening titles that’s beautifully choreographed and hugely entertaining. As in the first film, the integration of this computer-generated creature in a live-action setting is seamless. This is yet another sign that MacFarlane needs to make an old-school musical next — and hopefully if he does, he’ll invite some seasoned folks to help him make his ideas truly sing.