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"TED 2"
(2015) (Mark Wahlberg, voice of Seth MacFarlane) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A stuffed toy bear that has come to life and gotten married goes to court to prove that he is a person with rights.
PLOT:
Ted (voice of SETH MacFARLANE) is a former Teddy Bear who magically came to life in the arms of a 10-year-old boy who made a grand wish. Years later, that boy, John (MARK WAHLBERG), is all grown up and divorced from the love of his life. But Ted is doing great, having married Tami-Lynn (JESSICA BARTH), the woman of his dreams, who he works with at a local grocery store in Boston.

But a year into the marriage, Ted and Tami-Lynn are having problems and decide that having a baby would rekindle their love. Ted, being anatomically correct for a stuffed animal, cannot father a child with a human being. After it's learned Tami-Lynn can't conceive either due to her past drug abuse, the couple try to adopt a child and run afoul of the law when it is deemed Ted is not a person, but property. Ted loses his job, he can't file for unemployment, and his marriage is ruled null and void. He and John hire eager young lawyer Samantha Jackson (AMANDA SEYFRIED) to sue for his rights as an individual.

However, his old nemesis, Donny (GIOVANNI RIBISI), who has always wanted a stuffed, living toy bear for his own, actively plots with Tom Jessup (JOHN CARROLL LYNCH), the head of a major toy company, to thwart Ted's efforts in court so they can reclaim the bear, cut him open, and figure out what makes Ted human so they can mass-produce him for toy store shelves. After being trumped by ace attorney Shep Wild (JOHN SLATTERY), Ted seeks the help of the foremost civil rights lawyer in the country, Patrick Meighan (MORGAN FREEMAN).

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
At the very least, "Ted 2" is leagues better than "A Million Ways to Die in the West." But that's setting the bar low. Real low. But that's kind of what writer-director-actor-animator Seth MacFarlane has been doing for his career as first the creator and main vocal talent behind "Family Guy," then as a filmmaker with the first "Ted" and the aforementioned Western comedy that made many 10 Worst lists last year.

"Ted 2" is MacFarlane once again free of network censors and able to throw in as many curse words, pot-smoking scenes, and penis, poop, and male ejaculation jokes as he can. He knows he's being naughty. He always knows it. So, he throws in a Broadway standard here, a schmaltzy scene of male bonding there, and a ton of pop-culture references (mostly of the sci-fi/fantasy variety) to soften it and say to the easily offended in the audience: "I'm just messin' with ya! I'm really just a cheeky, good-hearted guy at heart. Now, come on. You know you love an extended gag involving a penis-shaped bong! You know you do!"

There's no doubt that we are now living in an era where comedy is feeling the sting of political correctness run amuck. So many people are so easily offended these days. And if you say or write the wrong thing, there's Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for you to be publicly shamed, flogged, and completely run out of "decent" society. But somehow MacFarlane is one of the few who have escaped such persecution. He has gotten to a rather marvelous place in his career where he can pretty much make jokes about darn-near anything and get away with it. It's like he's gone so many rock layers down, it's just expected that his characters are going to say or do things that are completely outrageous and offensive. "What do ya expect?" I often hear. "It's Seth MacFarlane."

It's rather brilliant how he has used animation, too, to get away with so much. If "Family Guy" were a live action show, it would have been slashed and burned by the culture vultures, media pundits and the professionally outraged years ago. But when you have sexist, ignorant, homophobic, offensive things coming out of the mouths of cartoon characters, it's OK ... especially if you pile a LOT of things into each episode.

From that base of operations, he has managed to launch the "Ted" films, which are very much like "Family Guy" episodes in structure and tone, with characters digressing and remembering past comical situations or running up against people from pop culture of the past two or three decades and having them factor into outlandish situations. In the first film, we were introduced to John (Mark Wahlberg), a blue-collar guy who made a wish as a kid that his Teddy Bear could come to life and he did.

But John and Ted (voice of MacFarlane, basically doing his Peter Griffin voice) suffered from arrested development, and John's girlfriend prodded him to stop smoking pot, watching bad TV all day, and grow up. Well, John married her and since divorced her. Because the first movie made gobs of money and you couldn't have a sequel in which the characters have all matured and don't love throwing around their own bodily fluids, we now have this film.

In it, co-writer/director MacFarlane goes a semi-serious route when the government declares Ted property and not a person. He takes his case to court, with young upstart attorney Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) representing him, and Ted wanting to put his own marriage to buxom human female Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) back together. If you're easily offended, you'll certainly be outraged when MacFarlane tries to liken Ted's case to that of Dred Scott, Rosa Parks, and even Kunta Kinte of "Roots." But I'll give him points here for coming up with a plot suitably different from the first film.

The problem is always the same with MacFarlane. Excess! First of all, this flick is two hours and five minutes. It should have been about 90. There are at least three or four recurring gags throughout that aren't really funny the first time they are introduced, that keep getting repeated throughout. Just when the court case gets interesting, it's over and the screenplay send the three leads on a jive road trip. And the return of Giovanni Ribisi's creepy Donny from the first film just seems more like a favor between Hollywood friends than an essential element of this particular story.

But because MacFarlane throws so much at that map, when a gag lands, it's often a real gut-buster. There is a GREAT Liam Neeson cameo in the film and involves his distrust of the Trix cereal company. I really appreciated how much Amanda Seyfried allowed MacFarlane and Co. to make fun of her appearance. That was one recurring gag sprinkled perfectly throughout. And a climax at Comic-Con in New York has a terrifically funny brawl between costumed characters that sees Marty McFly pummeling Doc Brown with a hoverboard, a costumed Captain Kirk fighting a costumed Captain Picard in their own styles, and so forth.

Final verdict? If you are a MacFarlane fan, you'll get your money's worth. But I'm reviewing for a broader audience here, and I don't think there's quite enough laughs to warrant a recommendation. Although I do root for MacFarlane to keep pushing the envelope and getting us all to laugh despite ourselves ... and the 24-hour media coverage. "Ted 2" warrants a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed June 23, 2015 / Posted June 26, 2015


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