In manynay, mostways, "Ted 2" is more of the same, a sequel that has been willed into existence by the outrageous success of 2012's "Ted
," a happily profane comedy about a 35-year-old man and his friendship with his childhood teddy bear come to life. It was a foregone conclusion that there would be a second installment when the original grossed $549-million worldwide, but the story had already worn itself thin, a one-joke piffle of ridiculousness that would have worked better as a five-minute "SNL" sketch. The decidedly unimaginative nature of its premise did not bode well for a return engagement, but if there is good news to be had about "Ted 2" it is that this one actually has something to say beyond its continual bong hits and sex jokes. Alas, the newfound social consciousness of writer-director Seth MacFarlane (2014's "A Million Ways to Die in the West
") and co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild's screenplay is undermined by a discouraging whiff of hypocrisy. It is difficult to buy into MacFarlane's sincerity over themes involving equality when, in the same breath, he thinks nothing of tossing in throwaway gags involving gay and trans panic.
Stuffed bear Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) has only been married to grocery clerk coworker Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) for a year, and already their relationship is on the rocks. In an effort to reaffirm their commitment, they decide to have a baby. Their attempts by way of a sperm donor and adoption not only fail them, but bring up a much larger issue when the state government refuses to recognize Ted as a person and promptly annuls their marriage. Desperate to reclaim Ted's human rights, he and best pal John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) seek the help of 26-year-old attorney Samantha L. Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), a recent law graduate who passionately takes on their case. John is still hurting after his divorce to Lori (Mila Kunis in the first film, nowhere to be found here), but in the vivacious, penis-bonged Sam he finds someone who just might be perfect for him.
," "Ted 2" has more misses than hits when it comes to its comedic targets, and the running time is overinflated by a good twenty minutes. A subplot involving recurring weirdo villain Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) and his devious plot to kidnap Ted is wholly unnecessary and could have been entirely excised without missing a frame of the cut footage. That Mila Kunis' Lori has been so unceremoniously pushed aside puts a damper on the earlier picture, but at least she has a winning replacement in Amanda Seyfried's (2015's "While We're Young
") Sam L. Jackson. If Kunis was saddled with playing John's straight-laced, nagging girlfriend, Seyfried gets a much cooler, more free-spirited character, a young woman who isn't above striking up a bong in her office while doing everything in her power to fight for common civil rights of which she believes in her heart Ted is deserving. As John, Mark Wahlberg (2014's "Transformers: Age of Extinction
") is mostly just along for the ride, but he is certainly game when it comes to a particularly messy trip he takes to a fertility clinic. Gross-out scenes such as this one feel like old-fashioned throwbacks to the raunchy post-"American Pie
" era of the early naughts, while spoofs of "The Breakfast Club" and "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" are cute without being clever, repeating moments from those iconic '80s John Hughes classics without understanding how to properly parody them. Better is a genuinely sly callback to "Jurassic Park" (perhaps the best bit in the film) that actually does put a spin on its self-referential modus operandi.
Ted's fight to be accepted in the eyes of the law as a person rather than property gives "Ted 2" a fresher than expected spin. His struggle for basic civil liberties is certainly timely as a metaphoric hot-button topic, but its purpose is frequently overshadowed by MacFarlane's disingenuousness. Does this plot have to share time with scenes where straight characters become squeamish over homosexuality and transsexuality? Does Ted have to boorishly use the word "fag?" Must characters who viewers are supposed to be rooting force be shown physically assaulting passersby for the fun of it and then laughing when they get seriously hurt? Yes, "Ted 2" is ultimately just an over-the-top, patently silly lark, and on those terms, it is diverting and even a little sweet on occasion (Seyfried's guitar-strumming solo of "Mean Ol' Moon" is rather lovely). Because there is a deeper political message at work, however, it would have been nice to see MacFarlane welcome the responsibility without lazily resorting to stereotypes, derogatory name-calling, and shock humor. The line between what is smart and funny and what is cheap and unamusing is one the filmmaker hasn't yet quite mastered.