Some movies are indefensible, and Ted 2 is one of them. Not only is this a movie about a libidinous, foul-mouthed stuffed bear; it’s the sequel to an earlier movie about a libidinous, foul-mouthed stuffed bear. But I laughed and laughed at Ted 2 — as I did at the 2012 Ted — and I can hardly tell you what that says about me, let alone about you. Will you laugh at Ted 2? That depends. The picture is somewhat ungainly. It putters along, occasionally attempting to be about something bigger than itself and not really succeeding. But if you’re in the right frame of mind and willing to give yourself over to its unapologetically idiotic id, it has the power to shake something loose in you. We all claim to long for smart comedy, but is it possible that puerile audacity is its own kind of intelligence? Or, to put it another way, this is your only chance this summer to watch Mark Wahlberg attempt to steal sperm from Tom Brady.
Ted 2, like its predecessor, was directed and co-written by Seth MacFarlane, who also provides the voice of the bear known as Ted — his diction has plenty of burly swagger, straight out of Southie, marked by those peculiarly elongated and flattened vowels that turn the thing most of us know as a “car” into a “caah.” Ted 2 is not above turning human beings into caricatures; hell, it’s all about turning human beings into caricatures, poking fun, as the first movie did, at Boston lunkheads in particular. This time around, though, MacFarlane is going for something bigger: In the opening scene, Ted gets hitched to his lady love Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth); months later, there’s trouble in paradise, and in a classic comedy setup ripped straight from the misguided motivations of real life, the two decide that having a child will fix their marriage.
Forget that Ted doesn’t have the necessary physical attributes to get his wife pregnant; it turns out that Tami-Lynn can’t conceive anyway. When the two try to adopt, the authorities decree that Ted isn’t a human being, but “property.” MacFarlane treats Ted’s battle for personhood as a civil liberties issue, analogous to gay-marriage rights: Talking bears should be able to marry and have families, too.
They should, of course, but luckily MacFarlane doesn’t stretch that slender metaphor too thin. The gags mostly revolve around pot smoking and rampant, joyful use of the F-word — the latter flows from Ted’s CGI’d lips as freely and breezily as a scull skimming along the Charles. Meanwhile, Ted’s human sidekick, John (Wahlberg), mopes around — his marriage to Mila Kunis’s character, from the first movie, has ended in divorce — but is revivified by the charms of the young lawyer who takes Ted’s case, Amanda Seyfried’s Samantha. Unbeknownst to all, the first film’s nefarious, unbalanced villain Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) lurks in the shadows, once again mounting an evil bearnapping scheme.
That’s one plot point too many, but it still doesn’t dim the crude exuberance of MacFarlane’s film, which is, after all, just a delivery receptacle for raunchy jokes and cockeyed societal observations.
As comedy masterminds go, MacFarlane is a strange success story: He amassed a healthy following with Family Guy, and if Ted hadn’t been such a huge hit, there wouldn’t be a Ted 2. But MacFarlane isn’t walking on easy street: Most critics hated his oddball western-comedy hybrid, A Million Ways to Die in the West, with its gonzo elliptical jokes. And many will never forgive him for the “We Saw Your Boobs” number at the 2013 Oscars, obviously intended as a jab at the crass sixth-grade-level taste and inarticulateness of male moviegoers but instead interpreted as the most heinous example of it. MacFarlane’s misfire elicited lots of wailing along the lines of, “Instead of celebrating the talent of these women, he’s insulting them by reducing them to body parts!” But face it: Singing, “Hail, women of Hollywood — we recognize your vast accomplishments, and we salute you!” just wouldn’t have had the same ring to it. MacFarlane’s “Boobs” number suggests that he knows exactly what the women of Hollywood are up against, not that he’s blind to it. Comedy needs to push boundaries — how else can it get our attention? Even if MacFarlane sometimes pushes in what we perceive as the wrong direction, do we really want him, or anyone, to stop?
MacFarlane’s comedy may not be sophisticated on its face, but the mechanisms behind it are delicately calibrated. Ted’s desperate efforts to make a baby with Tami-Lynn don’t begin with the attempted theft of Tom Brady’s sperm. Brady is a fallback choice; Ted and John first try to get some from Sam Jones — star of Mike Hodges’s underappreciated space-glam extravaganza Flash Gordon, which figured in Ted 1 — but he refuses on the grounds that he has a sperm count of one. Yes, one, and he’s hanging on to it: “I’ll need it for protein if I ever get lost at sea.”
You may not find that joke funny, but you can probably at least see the multiple layers lurking behind it. The funniest things here aren’t even the crudest. When Ted, John, and Samantha try to get help from a hotshot lawyer played by Morgan Freeman, Ted stares at him in trancelike silence, adrift on his dulcet tones. When he’s finally able to speak, the words that slip out are “I think I wanna sleep on a bed made of your voice.” There’s also a sight gag involving Ted’s discovery of, and disgust at, the amount of porn John has stashed on his computer. It’s not enough to just erase it, Ted tells his friend: They’ll have to smash the hard drive, and because not even that is enough to prevent recovery, they’ll need to bury the shards of the tainted laptop in Boston Harbor. The sequence lasts all of twenty seconds, but it reaches a Looney Tunes level of ridiculousness.
We haven’t even gotten to the Liam Neeson cameo — but you should see that for yourself. Ted 2 is bumpy and imperfect; MacFarlane has lots of ideas, and he tries to squeeze too many of them in. But he does love musical numbers, and he includes two charming and lively ones, the first of which features Ted and a bevy of guy-and-gal Busby Berkeley–style dancers tapping away to Irving Berlin’s “Steppin’ Out With My Baby.” Ted, dressed in his wedding tux, bounces along atop a row of top-hatted dancers, touching down so lightly that he doesn’t knock a single topper out of place — you can do that when you’re an animated bear. The number suggests the flip side to MacFarlane’s love of coarse humor: He likes a nicely cut suit, a whisper-light soft-shoe, an old song with a champagne kick. Maybe it’s time for him to retire the Ted concept and make a picture where he can put more of that sensibility to work. Ted movies may be like martinis and breasts — three’s too many, but two is just right.
Directed by Seth MacFarlane. Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Morgan Freeman, Patrick Warburton, Dennis Haysbert, and Richard Schiff.
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Opens June 26