In my review of Ted, I noted how director/co-writer/star Seth MacFarlane had backed off the cartoonish style from his TV series Family Guy to provide something that was still foul-mouthed and abrasive, but in a traditional story. He played it safe as far as the narrative was concerned, and there was a sense that MacFarlane dealt with emotional beats like a kid eating his vegetables. However, the movie was still funny and showed that he had the maturity to skillfully deliver immature jokes.
For the sequel, Ted 2, MacFarlane clearly has more freedom and confidence to make the film he wants to make, and sometimes that indulgence is refreshing and other times its an absolute chore as he goes out of his way to reach a single fantastic joke. At least 20 minutes could be cut from Ted 2, but MacFarlane thinks everything he’s doing is genius, and the penchant he shows for digressions in Family Guy are writ-large in Ted 2. The movie can still be painfully hilarious (there’s a scene involving Liam Neeson that had me laughing so hard I was struggling to breathe), but it can also be a total slog between mean-spirit jokes, stoner humor, and random gags.
Ted (MacFarlane) and trashy girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) have tied the knot, but after one year into their marriage is in shambles and they’re already at each other’s throats. Ted’s co-worker suggests that the solution is for him and Tami-Lynn to have a baby because loving that baby will teach them to love each other (this asinine reasoning elicited knowing chuckles from the crowd at my screening). After a protracted failed attempt to get sperm for artificial insemination, Ted and Tami-Lynn decide to adopt, but it causes the government to see Ted not as a person but as property. Ted and best friend John (Mark Wahlberg), who’s been down in the dumps since he and Lori divorced, decide to sue for Ted’s civil rights and hire neophyte lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) to help them win the case. But their quest to bestow personhood on Ted becomes much harder when Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), the villain from the first film, conspires with Hasbro head Tom Jessup (John Carroll Lynch) to get Ted declared property so they can tear him open and figure out how to make more teddy bears like him.
That’s a lot of plot to get to a ham-fisted commentary on gay marriage (it goes from thinly-veiled metaphor to commentary when Ted refers to the “homos trying to get married” during his court case), but MacFarlane lets us know from the start of the movie that he’s going to do whatever by including a gigantic dance number during the opening credits. The dance number isn’t meant to be funny. It’s just elaborate, and I kind of admire MacFarlane’s willingness to drop in a long sequence that doesn’t further the plot or even try to get laughs.
My admiration faded as the movie drags to get to the jokes it wants. It’s a tough trade because some of these jokes are fantastic, but the road to reach them is completely unnecessary. I don’t mind when MacFarlane drops in a small, random scene that’s completely disconnected from the plot (the aforementioned Liam Neeson joke, which only comes back post-credits). The problem comes when he includes long stretches that don’t further the plot.
The entire sequence when Ted tries to get sperm for artificial insemination leads to some really funny jokes, but from a plot perspective, it could have been dropped entirely since Ted and Tami-Lynn eventually have to go with adoption. There’s another part where Ted, John, and Samantha just chill out on an abandoned farm, and it only minimally furthers the love story between John and Samantha. Part of good storytelling requires sacrificing inessential plot for the greater good, but MacFarlane’s style is to cram in as many jokes as possible. That works to an extent on Family Guy where a bit might not work for 30 seconds and then you move on, but it’s death in a movie that’s almost two hours long.
I won’t deny that Ted 2 gave me some big laughs and was occasionally jaw-dropping at how mean-spirited the comedy could be (Amanda Seyfried is a very good sport), but the overall flow of the film is atrocious, so viewers are faced with the choice of pushing through the side-treks to get to the good stuff at the end, or foregoing the whole endeavor. Last time, MacFarlane was eating his vegetables to get to the dessert. This time, he’s making us do it.