‘Ted 2’ Review: Hateful Teddy Bears Are People Too, Bro
It’s funny that the poster for Ted 2 features the title character with his back to the camera and his hands suggestively poised near his crotch above the tagline “Ted is coming, again” because the whole movie revolves around the fact that Ted can’t come, not even once. Ted doesn’t have any genitals or a reproductive system, so he can’t have a baby with his wife. His search for a sperm donor eventually spills into the legal system, where a court case will decide a surprisingly complex question: Is Ted a person?
During the closing arguments of his case, Ted’s attorney says that personhood can be measured by several characteristics, including self-awareness and “a capacity for empathy.” It’s in that last key point where Ted — and Ted 2 — comes up short, by couching the journey of an obnoxious misanthrope as a plucky underdog story. Ted mocks every minority, ethnicity, and sexual orientation under the sun, then gets upset when his own rights are stomped on. (Come to think of it, maybe he doesn’t have any self-awareness, either.)
The problem with Ted 2, the very R-rated sequel to the very R-rated comedy hit from co-writer/director/voice actor Seth MacFarlane isn’t so much the content of its edgy humor as its tenor. It’s one thing to make a funny movie about a loathsome jerk. (Think, for example, of the hilarious and cynical Bad Santa.) It’s another thing to make a funny movie that treats a loathsome jerk like a “good guy”; that sympathizes with him and encourages the audience to sympathize with him as well, even as he refuses to feel an ounce of concern for anyone around him. Ted’s jokes aren’t nearly as objectionable as the idea that we should like him for making them. In the parlance of this movie, don’t pour gallons of semen on me and tell me it’s raining.
That’s particularly frustrating because when Ted 2 isn’t taking shots at Koreans or Jews or mentally challenged people or freaking out at the sight of a bong shaped like a penis, it’s often very entertaining. There are several surprising (and ingenious) celebrity cameos, a hilarious discussion about author F. Scott Fitzgerald (“Why did you just say ‘F— Scott Fitzgerald?’”), a more satisfying Jurassic Park reference than anything in Jurassic World, and plenty of McFarlane’s patented non sequitur humor. (The best gag involves Ted and Mark Wahlberg’s John deliberately terrible suggestions to improv comics.) There’s enough solid, clever comedy to suggest MacFarlane doesn’t need to rely on the crutch of “shocking” racial and homophobic humor.
But he does anyway. And it really works against the story, which follows Ted and John in their quest to reaffirm Ted’s legal status after his marriage to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) gets annulled by the U.S. government. MacFarlane throws in lots of sad close-ups of Ted’s big eyes and his fuzzy brows arching in astonishment at the callous indifference of the legal system (and let it be noted that Ted himself is an astounding visual effect, as convincingly real as any in recent memory). Viewers are meant to care about this poor unfortunate creature and his simple hunger to be recognized as a human being (or bear, whatever). But who cares about the emotional well-being of a guy who literally throws apples at joggers for kicks (and then laughs even harder when a jogger stumbles into a cyclist and knocks him off his bike)?
Ted’s sole redeeming characteristics are his love for his wife (who he frequently mistreats) and his friendship with John, who drops his entire life to help Ted win his court case (if John had a job, he never goes to it even a single time over the course of the film). The Thunder Buddies hire an inexperienced attorney named Sam Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), who has somehow never heard of Samuel L. Jackson even though they share a name. As the case develops, they all get into a variety of misadventures, fistfights, and convenient product placement for Bud Light and Hasbro.
So is Ted a person? That depends; do bros count as people? No matter what Ted’s attorney claims, he seems to be sorely lacking in the empathy department. So does Ted 2, which at times feels like a hypocritical attempt by a straight white filmmaker to tell a story where the straight white people (and their teddy bear, who acts like the straightest whitest character of all) get to play the part of an oppressed minority, and where a vague pro-civil rights message serves as a convenient cover for lots of put-downs about actually oppressed minorities. It’s like a bully who makes a movie about how hard it is to be a bully. (“Woe is me! Nobody likes me, the guy who picks on everyone!”) By the end of the film, Ted’s convinced many skeptics that he’s grown, and learned some valuable lessons about compassion. Although I did laugh on occasion, I remain unswayed. Judgment for the plaintiff.
-Like the first Ted before it, Ted 2 is way too long. The first movie clocked in in at 106 minutes; this one runs a bloated 115 minutes. This isn’t The Iliad, it’s a movie about a potty-mouthed bear who makes penis jokes.
-The Hasbro product placement is so egregious it would make Adam Sandler blush. Just a few scenes after an extended dialogue scene about Monopoly, the film shifts to Hasbro headquarters, where a vintage Monopoly set hangs on the wall of an office of a greedy executive (John Caroll Lynch). He wants to kidnap Ted and reverse engineer him; every scene at Hasbro’s headquarters is littered with toy displays, and many, many shots of Transformers, a franchise that stars none other than Mark Wahlberg. Do you think he gets a royalty on every Optimus Prime they sell?
-Maybe I’m a softie, but some of the moments in Ted 2 struck me as uncomfortably mean. A lot of the third act of the film is set at New York Comic-Con, where a gay couple played by Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn wander around in costume. The Comic-Con setting does provide a couple of nice moments, but it also allows MacFarlane to throw in a running gag about Warburton and Dorn beating up nerds. That’s the whole joke; there’s no additional layer of humor, no real point where the tables are turned. They just wander around punching dorks in the face. It’s hilarious because they liked things and now they have concussions! The whole movie is like that; it’s supposed to be funny, I guess, as long as you’re not the one getting punched in the face.