Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Ted 2" Review: A Clunky Mess Of A Sequel That Bear-ly Makes The Grade


In 2012 Seth MacFarlane released his feature film directorial debut Ted which went on to become one of the surprise hits of that year pulling in over 500 million dollars worldwide from only a meager 50 million budget. So with those sorts of numbers flying around and buzz on the film being generally positive it was inevitable that we would eventually see a sequel come to fruition and that time is now upon us. However, it is with a heavy heart that I must report this follow up to the first Ted, cleverly referred to as Ted 2, is lacking in nearly every department that made the original such a huge success. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: Digital 2D             
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 55 min
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: June 26, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Umm...teddy bears?
Likes: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, the first Ted
Neutral:  Money grab sequels with zero inspiration
Hates: The total lack of focus and drought of funny jokes this time around
Seth MacFarlane a one hit wonder? Sadly, it's looking that way.


As I stated in my review for the first Ted (which I actually liked) I am not much of a Seth MacFarlane fan but I can appreciate that he does have a loyal fanbase. His jokes are lazy, obvious and most often intended to be more offensive than funny. It's not that I don't like a good joke at anothers expense, it's just that MacFarlane seems to be wanting to provoke a reaction out of his audience other than just laughter. With Ted though he found a nice balance between bathroom humor and his usual comedic tendencies and delivered a fun, light hearted and extremely vulgar comedy about a magical teddy bear that came to life one Christmas and whom proceeded to become one of the biggest slackers of all time.

Ted 2 picks up around a year or so after the first film where we find both Ted and John in the dumps. Ted has just married Tami-Lyn (Jessica Barth), the checkout girl that works with Ted at the local grocery store, and John is newly divorced from Lori (Mila Kunis) for reasons mostly left unexplained.  Ted and Tami-Lynn are having marital problems though that can only be resolved by having a baby apparently, something Ted isn't able to pull off due to a lack of a certain male organ and Tami-Lynn can't achieve due to her insides looking like a bottle of acid had exploded inside her thanks to years of hard drug use (what great people these are right?).

The only option left to the unorthodox couple is to try and adopt. However, their attempt to adopt shines a light on a very troubling truth about Ted that until now has gone unnoticed, even by Ted himself. He isn't recognized as being a real person. According to the government Ted is by definition still a product and has no soul. This revelation leads to Ted losing access to everything a free thinking human being is entitled to including his job, his marriage to Tami-Lynn which gets annulled and most importantly, his self worth. Ted is left with no choice but to fight for his civil rights which leads him and John to meeting the free spirited new lawyer Sam Jackson (Amanda Seyfried). She takes on their case despite her lack of experience and recognizing the difficult uphill battle that lies before them prepares for the courtroom battle of their lives.


The original Ted didn't have much in the way of an actual storyline. It was more like a patched together sequence of interconnected sketches that amounted to little more than a series of (admittedly funny) scenes with characters talking about nothing, doing drugs, smack talking one another and providing the slimmest possible character arcs possible for both Ted and John which left them both a little bit older and a little bit wiser by the end. The only real plot of that first film had revolved around a fanatic (Giovanni Ribisi) kidnapping Ted that was completely underwhelming. Usually lacking any semblance of a real narrative is a death sentence for 99.9% of movies, but Ted (both the movie and character) had a unique personality and more importantly was often times very very funny which goes a long way towards distracting the audience from missing core components such as those pesky little things like plot and character development.

For Ted 2 though both Ted and John have been reverted back to their slacker selves for no apparent reason other than to rehash much of the child like antics of the first film. That being said, one of few improvements over the original film is the inclusion of an actual story this time around. Instead of a bunch of loosely connected sketches or gags there is an actual reason for most of what happens in Ted 2. Unfortunately what happens is hardly very interesting nor is any of it really relevant to the bigger picture as we witness Ted and John going through many of the same motions they had previously sans much of the humor. There are a total of three parallel stories going on in Ted 2 this time around but each is so rudimentary and otherwise uninteresting that you will be longing for the days of the first film where there was no story to follow. Each of the three stories is a misguided mess of ideas and jokes that hardly ever work and when they do are a complete bore.


Starting with what can only be considered the main story of the three, there is Ted and his fight for civil rights. However, there is a lot more going on with Ted than just his civil case as he is also trying to save his marriage and have a baby at the same time. The way these three plot points are handled is a perfect example of what is wrong with Ted 2 as a whole. Although they are all connected to each other in some way or another they end up just being a means to an end instead of relating to anything substantial in Ted's life. The marital problems between Ted and Tami-Lynn last just long enough for them to decide to have a kid, then the idea of having a kid lasts just long enough for Ted to go to court. None are ever dealt with again (with the slight exception of the baby at the very end) and come off as a really lazy way to get us from point A to point B to point C etc...

Speaking of the lazy, much of the boredom found in Ted 2 revolves around the courtroom scenes (never a good idea for a comedy) where we are privy to some of the most amateurish lawyer antics to ever be committed to the screen. Neither side ever makes a decent enough case with the prosecution, played by the excellent John Slattery (here looking half asleep) making an obvious observation about Ted which delivers a serious blow to their defense or Ted trying to win over the judge by singing a soul ballad. None of that is funny nor is it smartly written. What sort of lawyer passes up the opportunity to cross examine the accused on the stand?

The other two slightly minor stories running parallel with Ted's civil case are the poorly executed bits involving John's attempts to grow up (again) and find a girlfriend (of which he seems to have only divorced the Kunis character simply to give him something to do here) and a really hackneyed partial rehash of the kidnapping storyline from the first film. Once again we have Giovanni Ribisi, reprising his role as the creep from the first film, and a tacked subplot involving the toy manufacturing company Hasbro. While the John plot at least benefits from the introduction of a fresh new face in the lovely Amanda Seyfried, the Hasbro plot (which is linked to the courtroom drama) falls completely flat and goes absolutely nowhere.


Now, perhaps if the movie were funny all these nitpicks about story wouldn't matter so much, however that isn't the case. As sterile as all the courtroom shenanigans are, as cringeworthy as the slapped on romantic stuff with John is and as yawn inducing as the Hasbro angle is, nothing is as big a let down as just how un-funny Ted 2 is overall. It's not for a lack of trying either, as there are a string of gags all throughout the film that MacFarlane clearly seems to think are pure comedic gold, but alas they are nothing more than a series of ill-conceived jokes that just lay there limp waiting for you to react which most sadly don't illicit much more than a smirk if you are lucky.

As with MacFarlane's trademarked Family Guy formula, most of the film's humor is derived from a number of standalone scenes that, while partially related to the story at hand, are mostly just an excuse to set up a joke. Some examples of how lazy and poorly implemented they are involve the film's many surprise celebrity cameos, the most devoid any semblance of humor is a sequence between Ted and Liam Neeson (playing a weird hybrid of himself and his Taken persona) at the grocery store where Neeson proceeds to inquire whether or not Trix cereal really is just for kids. Watching the scene playout is much the same as watching someone strangle themselves to death where your thoughts wonder from why is this happening to please make it stop.


That is only a small symptom of a much larger problem though as nothing that MacFarlane attempts to do here seems particularly inspired either. Take for instance a number of movie homages that range from The Breakfast Club to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, none of which work as an actual homage since the film is more recreating a scene instead of evoking nostalgia based on them. The only one that strikes a chord is the use of the Jurassic Park theme as it is the only time MacFarlane lets our own nostalgia help us recall the moment from the film and place it in the moment he is using it in. Sadly that is the only time any of the many movie homages works at all and even that one is sabotaged slightly by a cornball piece of dialog at the end of the scene from Contact.

Now in all fairness, I did laugh a number of times during Ted 2 but they were few and far between. The scene with Ted and John going to steal Tom Brady's sperm to father Ted's baby was moderately amusing. As was everything that took place at the New York Comic-Con during the finale where a brawl breaks out and we get to see the likes of Doc Brown and Marty McFly beating the crap out of one another and the chick from the Fifth Element flipping through all the mayhem. That stuff was fun and filled with all kinds of geekry, but by far the biggest laughs and probably the biggest in-joke of the film comes from the pairing of Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn who dress up as The Tick and Worf (which if you don't get why that is funny now it won't much matter to you when it happens in the film either) and go around the convention picking on all the nerds.


If the film had more of that sort of clever writing and new ideas then Ted 2 may have turned out better. Perhaps if the film had kept Ted and John from falling from grace and dealt with a story that had some weight to it, such as the idea of how Ted may not deserve to be given the rights as other humans and maybe explore how Ted would fit better into society (an idea the film itself ponders at one point) and focused primarily on it instead of scenes comprised of spilling an entire rack of rejected semen all over Mark Wahlberg (again, was that really supposed to be funny?), then there could have been some real potential here. As it stands though, Ted 2 has now joined the sad ranks of a long list of sequels that had no idea what made the original so special and will eventually be relegated to a future bonus feature when the Ted: Ultimate Edition Blu-ray hits.

Any number of awkward or failed gags like the running joke about always finding black c**ks on the internet or even jokes with no follow through such as setting Ted and John up as Law & Order fans and doing absolutely nothing with it when they find themselves in court can be easily overlooked if the core of the film had something worthy to explore. If the journey we take with them was either fun or interesting then a lot of these issues can be forgiven, but Ted 2 is such a disjointed mess that it doesn't know what it wants to be from moment to moment resulting in an experience akin to watching a toddler run aimlessly around a playground from playset to playset never once giving thought to what came before or what comes after.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Ted 2 doesn't work as a comedy, doesn't work as a courtroom drama and it certainly doesn't work as a sequel to the much more appealing first film. Between this and A Million Ways to Die in the West Seth MacFarlane is quickly loosing all the good will he attained when he first introduced the world to the very first foulmouthed, drug addicted teddy bear. Whatever magic he conjured up to make that film work as well as it did he needs to regain quick otherwise he may be stuck just being a family guy for the rest of his career.

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