"Ted" Sequel Two Steps Back For Seth MacFarlane

The best scene in “Ted 2” is a straight-faced, Broadway-style opening credits dance sequence that has nothing to do with the story at large. The best joke in “Ted 2” isn’t resolved until after the film’s end credits and – you guessed it – has nothing to do with the story at large.

Then again, the “Ted” series doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, a hallmark of its creator, “Family Guy” mastermind Seth MacFarlane.

The comedian has made a fortune on haphazard plotting, strange non-sequiturs, and a poor hit-to-miss ratio, always batting for power, not average. In that way, his latest is a prototypical “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” sequel. A handful of big laughs, a lot of dead air, and surprising on only one account – just how damn MacFarlane-y it is.

“Ted 2” sees all of the writer-director’s worst proclivities front and center, as shaggy and undisciplined as ever.

The titular teddy bear (once again voiced by MacFarlane) is back to doing what he does best – cursing and smoking weed – with his best friend and fellow Bostonian John (Mark Wahlberg) by his side. But weirdly, Wahlberg has been demoted to second banana. Apart from John’s former flame (Mila Kunis) being written out and substituted with a new one (Amanda Seyfried as a newbie lawyer), Wahlberg is just along for the ride, his character contributing very little to the story.

The film leaps from domestic comedy – Ted is now married to the ever-tacky Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) – to screwball John Hughes tribute to courtroom drama, with MacFarlane trying his best to buck viewers at every turn. When the pic finally settles into its civil rights storyline – Ted’s personhood is being contested by the government – it nestles up to satire, only for satire to run away screaming.

By likening the struggles of an anthropomorphic teddy bear to that of American minorities, MacFarlane proves himself nothing if not brave. A fuzzy children’s toy is an insane vessel for delivering commentary on the African-American Civil Rights Movement, let alone having said toy deliver a “Roots” joke.

But brave or not, the material is misguided, at best. For all its ponderous monologuing about what it means to be human, MacFarlane isn’t really saying anything at all, using the subject matter to prop up a thin story and some even thinner jokes.

It seems like the pic is aware of its own narrative listlessness, frontloading its first 30 minutes with jokes in an attempt to outrun the uninspired story that unspools over the next 90. Giovanni Ribisi reprises his memorable turn as creepy antagonist Donny, but to no avail, since the screenplay shoehorns in an evil toy manufacturer subplot that feels lazily tacked on.

Seth MacFarlane has long walked a line of using his powers for good or evil – last year’s “A Million Ways To Die In The West” flamed out at the box office but featured some of his best material to date – but “Ted 2” is a major step backwards. With the novelty of a foul-mouthed teddy bear gone, we’re left with a limp story and an uncomfortable performance from Mark Wahlberg who looks like he wishes he were somewhere, anywhere else. After thirty minutes, audiences might agree.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: June 26, 2015
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Screenwriter: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi, Morgan Freeman, John Slattery, John Carroll Lynch, Liam Neeson
MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use)