I confess I rather liked the first Ted. It was funny, but that shouldn’t be surprising. Writer, director, and teddy-bear-vocalizer Seth MacFarlane is a pretty good jokester, and an accomplished pop culture lampooner. But what makes the movie work is its under-current of working class humanism: John (Mark Wahlberg) and Lori (Mila Collins) are two very different people, but both the movie and Ted – John’s magical talking teddy bear – clearly care about them as both individuals and as a couple. The chemistry and the conflict between the three leads is funny, but also relatable and energized by a real pathos. The script also achieves this, with a building momentum and a satisfying arc.
Nearly all of that is gone in Ted 2. First off, new motherhood apparently prevented Kunis from returning, so Lori is replaced by Samantha (Amanda Seyfried). Nothing inherently wrong with that. But MacFarlane chooses to explain the change by revealing John and Lori got divorced, Lori being “the wrong girl” after all.
Obviously, Ted 2 was no Aliens. But this choice feels like a slap in the face to its predecessor just like Alien 3’s decision to kill Hicks and Newt in the opening credits was a desecration of Aliens. The way John and Lori both grew and changed is one of the reasons Ted works, and the way Ted 2 throws all that under the bus is a cheap move from which the sequel never quite recovers. It would’ve been dark turn to have had Lori die instead, but it would’ve preserved the integrity of what happened in the first film and still given John the same basic emotional hurdles to overcome.
At any rate, Samantha is a green lawyer who John and Ted meet when Ted decides to sue the government for recognition as a legal person. Lori may not be back, but Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) is, and after her marriage to Ted goes south, the two of them decide to rekindle things by having a baby. As Ted obviously lacks the necessary anatomy, they go looking for a sperm donor and then for adoption possibilities, and in the process they discover the government still considers Ted a piece of property with no civil rights.
It’s not a bad idea. It turns John, Ted, and Samantha into a communal unit as they prepare the case, and you can imagine the political digs MacFarlane could get in with a movie that’s debating the “personhood” of a teddy bear. Also, familiar structure is important for this sort of satire: While Ted was a relationship comedy, Ted 2 can now work off the template of the courtroom drama.
Except, halfway through the film, MacFarlane abandons that genre for an abbreviated road trip movie, as the trio goes off in search of a famed civil rights attorney (Morgan Freeman, totally wasted here) and bumps into a Comic Con convention in New York City. The script just doesn’t give this new trio the same material to work with as the trio in the first film, so none of the relationships really suck you in. Honestly, its Ted and Tami-Lynn’s rocky but tenaciously unkillable marriage that moves more than anything else. And MacFarlane totally welches on the potent political possibilities of his thematic concept.
Some of the movie is funny. There’s some physical slapstick when John has a very unfortunate stumble at the sperm donor clinic, and yeah, I laughed. MacFarlane has some great referential jokes, too, in particular a Jurassic Park shoutout by way of John, Ted, and Samantha’s mutual adoration of pot, and the movie’s repeated ribbing about the slight resemblance Seyfried bears to Gollum from the Lord of the Rings (I mean, she really does have the same facial structure). Finally, there’s a completely random scene where Liam Neeson shows up in Ted’s check-out line at the grocery store, which really needs to clipped and allowed to live forever on YouTube.
Unfortunately, the privileged white-dude-bro cruelty that MacFarlane sometimes slips into, and which he managed to keep in check in Ted, comes out in Ted 2. MacFarlane brings back Guy (Patrick Warburton) – who’s now dating Rick (Michael Dorn) – almost purely to terrorize the attendees at the Comic Con festival, in a joke that gets old and then gets repeated five more times. And I’m sure there’s a way to make a genuinely funny joke out of Ted’s insistence on using words like “homo” and “retarded”: social censure of these terms is important, but there’s also only so much change you can reasonably expect people to keep up with, and in particular there are a lot of unexamined class politics in this sort of speech hygiene. But you’d have to actually work at the joke to dig into those layers. MacFarlane is just a 10 year-old here, basically giggling that “OMG I used a bad word!” and then ducking out the door.
That sort of laziness is characteristic of Ted 2. The jokes are lazy, the script is lazier, and the disposal of Lori is lazier still. It gets a few gut-bust laughs and occasionally recaptures the spirit of the original Ted. But it only happens in short bursts.