If Ted 2 proves anything, it’s that Seth MacFarlane cannot be trusted with his own success. MacFarlane—a demonstrably talented, funny and often thoughtful individual—has a nasty habit of doing something fun and original that connects with critics and audiences, only to capitalize on his success with vanity projects that rely more on smugness and self-satisfaction than jokes or anything entertaining.
The revelatory first few seasons of “Family Guy,” full of madcap silliness and inspired absurdity, are a far cry from the show in its current form, which appears to be nothing more than MacFarlane & Co. making themselves giggle in a recording booth and then animating it. (This is to say nothing of the see-if-it-sticks spinoffs. Two of them.)
A capable singer with a genuine knack for putting on a show, he followed up his pleasant if forgettable albums with an infuriatingly smug turn hosting the Oscars. Then, tellingly, his first instinct after the success of Ted was to make a single-joke movie starring himself and cramming it full of the most predictably gross jokes he could think of, filming A Million Ways to Die in the Old West off of what was apparently the first draft of the script.
Ted 2 may not be the same sort of spastically unfunny tragedy as MacFarlane’s last live-action outing, but his ego is still behind the wheel of this vehicle while his talent takes a nap. The movie begins with newlyweds Ted and Tami-Lynn deciding to start a family. Yet with Ted’s physical inability to father a child and a series of mishaps in securing a sperm donor, the couple decide to adopt. This alerts the authorities to the fact that Ted is not technically human and therefore does not have any legal right to raise a child, hold a job or even be married, so the gang employs the aid of stoner attorney Samantha L. Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) to fight for his right to personhood.
Yes, the advertising campaign around #LegalizeTed refers to a plot based around Ted’s efforts to claim that he is a person, not property. The ensuing references to slavery—alternately joking and Sandler-esque in sincerity—are neither funny nor poignant. Either would have been nice, neither is to be found. Insensitive and ill-timed as this story thread is on its own, it’s also offensively predictable, as is almost every joke in Ted 2, crude or not. If you think something is about to happen, it almost certainly is but not in a form nearly as funny as it needs to be to justify the gag’s existence. Guess what timely joke is made when Tom Brady makes his cameo? Guess what happens when Ted and John are left alone in the sperm bank with a room full of deposits? Guess what costumes Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn wear to Comic-Con? And so on.
There is genuine charm in Ted 2’s predecessor, and some slivers of that can’t help but be carried through to the sequel. The bond between John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted feels real, and Wahlberg is more effective and endearing as the goofy, supportive friend than as the emotional lead in the first movie. Seyfried does her best with the material and breathes life into a character that was written as stoner dude wish fulfillment. But it’s not enough to steer Ted 2 away from being a vanity project for MacFarlane’s particular brand of arrogance, which comes across as the 40-year-old equivalent of that kid from grade school whose idea of hanging out was making you watch him play video games. He is a massively talented guy. Maybe he just needs a few more bombs before he does something worth seeing again.
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