Friday, June 26, 2015

Ted 2: Insufficiently stuffed

Ted 2 (2015) • View trailer 
Three stars. Rated R, for drug use, crude and sexual content, and pervasive profanity

By Derrick Bang

Let’s cut to the chase.

Films like this are critic-proof. If you enjoyed Ted — if the notion of a foul-mouthed, substance-abusing stuffed bear hit your sweet spot — then you’ll certainly enjoy this sequel just as much. Perhaps even more so.

En route to New York, in hopes of getting some desperately needed legal assistance,
John (Mark Wahlberg), Ted and Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) playfully bicker about who
gets to drive next. Naturally, Ted wants his turn behind the wheel...
But if equal-opportunity race-, gender- and religion-baiting profanity and vulgarity are apt to send you into a froth, prompting letters to your Congressperson regarding the dangerous decline of Western civilization ... better steer clear.

Hey, I thought 2012’s Ted was a giggle. At times. The same is true of this one. That said, both films suffer from the malady that often afflicted Monty Python’s big-screen efforts: the tendency to exploit a joke that’s amusing the first time, by beating it to death. Most potty humor does not become funnier through repeated exposure.

At 106 minutes, Ted was at least half an hour too long. At 115 minutes, this sequel is at least 45 minutes too long.

It’s simply impossible to shake the feeling — in both cases — that an admittedly hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch has been stretched way beyond its ability to amuse.

Still, creator/director/co-scripter Seth MacFarlane deserves credit for fitful attempts to stretch the envelope. This new film’s Busby Berkeley-style opening credits are quite a surprise, well deserving the special credit given First Assistant Director David Sardi. (I suspect, however, that those who show up for Ted’s profanity-laced tirades will be bored by these credits, despite their choreographed opulence.)

A few surprise guest stars are cleverly used, notably Jay Leno and Liam Neeson, both of whom obviously have a healthy sense of humor. Michael Dorn does some very cute stuff with his longtime Star Trek persona. Sam Jones also returns, playing himself and still capitalizing on his long-ago stint as Flash Gordon. Always a funny bit.

And — wait, could it really be true? — the script actually flirts with honest-to-God social relevance. MacFarlane and co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild paint with awfully broad strokes, but they definitely score a few provocative jabs at discrimination issues. That’s unexpected, given the delivery system’s overall tone.

On top of which, I never tire of visual effects supervisor Blair Clark’s impressive work. It’s one thing to fabricate imaginary creatures on distant planets or alternate-universe fantasy realms: quite something else to so seamlessly integrate an 18-inch stuffed bear into our own workaday world. Hey, I’ll buy into the premise: Ted is real.

He simply isn’t somebody with whom I wish to spend so much time.

Events pick up more or less on the heels of the first film, as Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) happily marries his bubble-brained skank girlfriend, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth, note-perfect as the horrific epitome of trailer-trash). The ceremony unfolds without a hitch because, well, this is Massachusetts — Boston, to be precise — a well-known haven for alternate lifestyles.

Alas, the relationship is destined to be rocky: no surprise, with Tami-Lynn outspending their meager earnings as cashiers at a local supermarket. Flash-forward a year, and things have gotten very dicey. In an effort to save their marriage, Ted and Tami-Lynn do what far too many bickering spouses do: They decide to have a child.

Ah, but that’s easier said than done. Ted is anatomically ill-equipped; Tami-Lynn is anatomically ... maltreated. We detour at length into the realm of sperm donation, which affords Ted’s best friend and “thunder buddy” John (Mark Wahlberg) plenty of opportunity for grotesque behavior. (Imagine the worst. You’ll still be grossed out.)

No problem; they simply decide to adopt. But that proves a disastrous move, as it puts Ted under government scrutiny that he thus far has avoided. The edict comes down: He isn’t a person, and therefore cannot adopt a child. Worse yet, as a non-person, his marriage is declared null and void.

Determined to fight for his person-hood, Ted, John and Tami-Lynn decide to sue the state; they therefore enlist the pro-bono aid of apprentice attorney Samantha (Amanda Seyfried). Her lack of experience initially concerns them, but doubts vanish when she reveals herself to be a medical marijuana aficionada. The resulting bond couldn’t be stronger.


The first film’s smarmy stalker villain, Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), has landed a job as a janitor at toymaker Hasbro’s corporate headquarters. (Donny’s equally vile adolescent son is MIA in this sequel.) Donny curries favor with Hasbro’s CEO, Jessup (John Carroll Lynch), by pointing out that if Ted loses this court case, he becomes de facto “property” ... at which point, he could be snatched with minimal fuss.

Then he could be dissected, in order to determine what makes him sentient, at which point Hasbro could make a fortune by creating a million more. And then, finally, Donny could have a Ted of his very own.

So, Jessup stacks the legal deck by hiring high-power attorney Shep Wild (John Slattery), who never loses a case. His goal: to prove that Ted is a toy. A thing, like a toaster. Property.

Okay, not a bad premise upon which to build an actual storyline.

But MacFarlane & Co. don’t spend that much time on the courtroom drama (more’s the pity). Too much of the film is devoted to sidebar montages, often to musical accompaniment, as when John and Samantha start making goo-goo eyes while researching precedents in a law library; or — most notably — when, one evening around a campfire, Seyfried grabs a guitar and sings an original love song called “Mean ol’ Moon” (lyrics by MacFarlane).

Granted, it’s funny when, à la Disney’s Snow White, various woodland creatures gather to listen ... but that doesn’t prevent this sequence from feeling as if it’s just killing time. Like far too much of this movie.

(That said, “Mean ol’ Moon” is a sweet little song, and Norah Jones does a smashing repeat version during the end credits.)

Wahlberg is a good sport, constantly playing bewildered straight man to an ambulatory teddy bear ... but it’s not much of a performance. John may be a slacker doofus, but that doesn’t mean Wahlberg should skate by with slacker effort. Nor should MacFarlane, as director, have allowed Wahlberg to get away with such minimal effort.

Seyfried, on the other hand, makes up for her somnambulant co-star. Samantha is fun and feisty, and Seyfried is fearless; she comes perilously close to turning Samantha into an actual character, in great contrast to the other wafer-thin stick figures populating this story. She shows genuine passion, particularly during her (sadly too few) courtroom speeches.

Ribisi doesn’t need to act much; he looks suitably sinister as the disturbing (and disturbed) Donny. And you’ll likely recognize Patrick Stewart, serving as the narrator’s voice.

Everything climaxes at the New York Comic-Con, a setting ripe for hilarity, intentional and otherwise. I was sad to learn, however, that this action took place on a re-created movie studio set; it’s a shame MacFarlane and his crew couldn’t have wreaked havoc at the actual Comic-Con.

All things considered, this second dose of MacFarlane’s short, furry alter-ego is a bit more satisfying than the first round ... but that’s still damning with faint praise.

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