By Will Ashton
Much like how the titular character magically came to life, watching Seth MacFarlane’s directorial debut Ted was like seeing the filmmaker and Family Guy creator inspired and alive again as he was only briefly before. Despite its rough patches, the characters were well cared for, the tone was enjoyably airy and the jokes themselves felt invigorated in a way his hit show hadn’t — and hasn’t — been for seasons. The aimlessness became charming, the energy consistently popping and the chemistry between lead actor Mark Wahlberg and his CG teddy-bear co-star felt not only natural but seasoned in just the way it needed to be.
It was a nice surprise, and a fine return-to-form for MacFarlane. But something happened between making his first feature and his sophomore effort, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and while Ted 2, his third film and first sequel, is the most assured and cohesive MacFarlane movie made yet, it’s about as sluggish as his latter film. The laughs are less frequent, the jokes are tediously repetitious, the fun’s muted and the tenderness once engraved inside is faded. MacFarlane’s filmmaking career is apparently following suit with the one he left on television.
Just as the first movie ended with John Bennett (Wahlberg) and Lori Collins’ (Mila Kunis) marriage, Ted 2 is back on the church’s front steps, with Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) finally tying the knot. It’s a happy occasion, but not for everyone — for these nuptials bring back poor memories for John, in what-turned-out-to-be a failed marriage. This heartbreak leaves him tepid to re-enter the dating pool, but his thunder buddy still tries his hardest to get him back in the game. One year later, though, our titular bear has his own relationship problems to deal with, as things with Tami-Lynn are not as great as he initially thought and hoped.
On the verge of divorce himself, the couple finds their relationship in bloom again when they decide to start a family. Though with Ted being a stuffed bear without the proper — shall we say — materials to produce a child, he needs some assistance to make this dream possible. But in that process, Ted’s life turns into a disaster when the government proclaims him not a person but property, causing them to take away his job, expenses and marriage against his will. But through the help of his best buddy and a young, if inexperienced, lawyer Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), Ted will have to go to court to reclaim his civil rights.
What was most appealing about the original becomes this sequel’s biggest detriment: its carefree attitude. As mentioned before, buried underneath the original Ted was a fun spirit bolstered by a good heart and a likable attention to character. Ted 2, however, is a more mean-spirited and half-baked effort, lacking any of the goodwill earned previously. Also missing is the warmth and care placed in John and Ted’s friendship. Sure, they spend quality friend time together, make room in their busier story to state their said friendship’s importance and dick around as much — if not more so — than they did before. But the sentiment feels more phoned in. Wahlberg’s still a trooper, game to play along with whatever’s thrown in his way, but it’s as if he doesn’t really have his soul in it anymore.
That said, the VFX on Ted himself are just as stunning and naturalistic to their environments as before, doing a seamless job blending our main CG character into each scene and place. Also, where most comedy sequels disingenuously jump back into the same beats/cues of their last feature, props should be given to MacFarlane and his returning co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild for beefing up the story and making it more plot-driven. Even though select jokes are brought back — as well as the last film’s villain, Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), ham-fisted inside the story — overall Ted 2 does feel like a continuation of the story and not just a re-do. That’s why it’s so puzzling that it feels so underwritten and half-assed.
There’s some funny stuff in Ted 2. Some really funny stuff, in fact. But those laugh-out-loud moments make it all the more disappointing whenever joke after joke afterwards falls flat completely or fails to really live up to its full potential. Much like A Million Ways, this is a meandering disappointment, where MacFarlane’s typical reference-heavy material, half-hearted run-on gags, culture callbacks and other generally uninspired puns overshadow these genuinely funny moments. It’s fun loving, but not particularly eager enough to make the ride as enjoyable as possible. Worse of all, though, it continuously sets up jokes that go nowhere fast — particularly one run-on gag involving African-American male genitalia.
Because of this, Ted 2 sways between amusing enough and entirely stale at every step. Though better than other summer comedy failures like Pitch Perfect 2 or Hot Pursuit, one wishes everyone pushed themselves a tad farther to make this the rare comedy sequel worthy to follow-up its successor. Just like Hot Tub Time Machine 2 earlier this year, the building blocks to a successful raunchy comedy sequel are inside here its core. Somewhere between page-to-screen, however, the cleverness fizzled out and the material got lazy and cheap. The product is cared and processed as efficiently as before, but this comedy sequel isn’t stuffed with the care and wit MacFarlane’s team placed inside the last time.