Ted was Seth MacFarlane’s perfectly selected Christmas present for adults of a certain age—those who still can recall the sounds of the original Return of the Jedi’s action figure commercials and even now sense their digits’ muscle memories flinch from flashes of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s rectangular controller. Indeed, for much of its box office devouring audience, Ted was a raunchy, foul-mouthed gift-box for eternal Generation X nostalgia.
Well, Ted 2 is a lot like what happened to all those idolized brands after marketers thought they found a winning formula: the same thing again but without the love, without the craftsmanship, and ultimately without the nostalgia. Rather than being a treasured Christmas plush toy, Ted 2 begins and ends much like those cheaper, year-round lines of Hallmark holiday bears. The titular teddy can now wear a suit and a variety of ties throughout the picture as he gets high, but just because the latest MacFarlane care package has arrived in time for the Fourth of July does not mean that audiences should expect comedic fireworks.
Picking up some time after the original Ted ended with a happily ever after for the Thunder Buddies of plush Ted (voiced by writer and director MacFarlane) and the adult stoner who once wished him to life during his 1980s childhood, John (Mark Wahlberg), Ted 2 finds that not all stories end so neatly. This is especially true for John who despite looking like Mark Wahlberg has fallen into a funk of deep depression and porn after his fiancée from the first film, Lori (Mila Kunis), walked out.
Pretty much just stoned and tagging along for the ride, Wahlberg surprisingly stays mostly in the backseat as Ted’s uncouth “Fifty Shades of Bear” relationship with cashier Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) has blossomed into an unlikely (and unfortunately central) love story. The teddy bear even marries his affectionately cliché (see: crass) Bostonian girlfriend and plans to adopt a child with her until the U.S. government finds out. Deeming Ted not to be a real person due to his fuzzy exterior, the government revokes his marriage and forbids him from adopting a child.
Not taking this thinly-veiled political allegory sitting down, Ted and Johnny embark on a legal journey to fight for equal rights alongside the sweetly wasted Amanda Seyfried as Sam(antha) Jackson, their legal counselor who is smart enough to lead the charge on marriage equality but who also still has time to toke up with the guys as they school her in pop culture (including as to why her eyes remind them of Gollum).
Right from the beginning, the warmth of an Amblin-esque premise about a 1980s toy that’s come alive has more or less expired in Ted 2. Whereas that film featured a knowingly mawkish but endearing through-line that offered MacFarlane the kind of narrative momentum his scatological sensibility usually ignores, Ted 2 really does begin by accepting that that story has ended, which is extolled in singsong narration by Patrick Stewart. And the problem lies in MacFarlane and his fellow screenwriters, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, not finding a good reason to return to this narrative bong for another hit when there’s only a few fumes left.
As a result, the fluffy sequel actually resembles less the first film and more the interchangeable sight gags and pop culture references/cameos that have long allowed Family Guy to coast at the top spot of Fox’s Sunday night line-up (and remain fertile ground for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to muse about a Family Guy writing room manatee conspiracy). Rather than built around a single central narrative that acted like a terrific 100-minute joke in Ted, this go-round is just one marijuana sketch here, and a Sam J. Jones/Flash Gordon rehashed gaggle there.
This is not to say that there are not some decent laughs to be had in Ted 2. I admit that there are at least three or four memorably crude and hilarious moments (and only one, involving Johnny and Ted visiting an insemination clinic, has been spoiled in the trailers). But again, they trade on athletic cameo endorsements or savvy use of recent Universal Pictures franchise nostalgia success stories for the chuckles, leaving the onscreen paring of Wahlberg and his CGI pal strangely lacking in the electricity they shared in the 2012 Thunder Buddies original.
Just as bored as MacFarlane seems to be with most modern episodes of Family Guy, his sequel only really comes to life when he puts down most of his pretenses and uses his sure-fired comedy hit to make a fairly on-the-nose but welcome plea for same sex marriage. But for a comedy that spends nearly two hours coasting on pop culture references—yet somehow fails to capitalize on poking fun at Wahlberg’s latest franchise bread-and-butter when they have him standing next to Bumblebee cosplayers in the film’s New York Comic Con climax—this is hardly the kind of buzz that MacFarlane and his studio dealers have pushed.
In fact, Ted 2 is much like its Comic Con finale, loud, chaotic, and littered with incoherent genre winks. But whether the writer and director is paying homage to Irving Berlin with a Top Hat styled opening credits sequence, or pandering to Trekkies with a Kirk vs. Picard showdown, one senses that only the filmmakers are really amused.