Seth MacFarlane takes himself to be a geek. Many episodes of his numerous animated series shoehorn just about every science fiction reference possible to get a rise out of the audience. With the first Ted, his love for Flash Gordon was honorable, a bit obscure, and made his first feature make a bit of a cultural footprint. With Ted 2, it’s increasingly evident that MacFarlane has lost the oft-charming irreverence brought on by the geek culture that informed his earlier works. What he’s churned out now is a shameless studio product filled with product placement and reeking of self-congratulatory pats on the back. There are a few chuckles when the movie becomes unhinged from the story, though. That, of course, rarely happens.
Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) tie the knot and want to have a kid. Here’s the problem: Ted is deemed property by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and cannot adopt a child with Tami-Lynn. In comes Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), first-year lawyer and fellow pot smoker dedicated to fighting the courts for Ted’s human rights. Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), the creep from the first film, is planning something nefarious with a Hasbro exec to capitalize on what makes Ted tick. Will Johnny (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted be able to overcome their own egos for the greater good?
Ted 2 emulates an episode of Family Guy, implementing a narrative that fails mostly to support the constant barrage of jokes. Many tangents are taken, but they feel cold and calculated compared to being derived from book of obscure pop culture callouts. Johnny and Ted’s adventures are fueled by their selfish need to get high, drunk and yell at people. The sparse drops of humanism are brought on by the plot’s need for conflict and closure. If you are expecting jokes to be upended by some form of charm so that the dramatic moments feel deserved, then you’re looking at the wrong movie.
But how are the jokes that Ted 2 relies so much upon? Well once again, they try to emulate MacFarlane’s earlier and more inspired works. They border on racism and homophobia, treating minorities like stereotypes. Whether you think a black woman calling white people a slur meant to demean her ethnicity is funny is up to you. Ted’s insistence to compare his struggle to slavery is shameful but also kind of expected. Even worse, there’s a fair amount of jokes built to look down upon that aforementioned geek culture that MacFarlane is supposed to be subscribing to. One whole sequence takes place at New York Comic Con, a den for all things geek culture. What we get is a shallow attempt to throw as many science fiction and film culture references into the mix to distract the viewer from the lack of overall engagement that Ted 2 has to offer. The infrequent chuckles come at the behest of picturing popular celebrities in funny situations, like Jonah Hill being announced as the next Superman.
Amanda Seyfried, newcomer to the series, looks lost in the midst of things. Through all of the pot jokes, she ends up serving Johnny’s character as his new romantic counterpart. Not once did she have her own moment to crack a joke that functioned at the same level as Johnny and Ted’s. She’s the manic pixie dream girl of MacFarlane’s dreams: smokes pot, is attractive and possesses little knowledge about pop culture to the point where people will think it’s cute. The film’s constant need to assert itself as the defining voice for a generation makes everything slog even more. Wahlberg and MacFarlane turn out the same performances from the first entry, just with a lot more self-sufficient egoism. Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson, among others, show up at varied times in a pure “isn’t it funny” capacity.
Amid the jokes, there’s a shocking amount of product placement from Universal. Part of the story revolves around the CEO of Hasbro toys wanting to know how to make teddy bears come alive, like Ted. If you didn’t know already, Universal has a partnership with Hasbro. Shades of their most popular effort, the Transformers films, are littered throughout the runtime in the form of giant standee models of characters. Bogus and insincere are the only ways to describe this facet of the plot.
Ted 2 is the next stop on the road that MacFarlane has been traveling down since A Million Ways To Die In The West, one starting with artistic integrity and ending with delusions of grandeur.