Director: Seth MacFarlane
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane (voice)
3 (out of 5) Globes
“Ted 2” has a Charlie Hebdo joke. Of course it does, because it’s by Seth MacFarlane, but for the record it’s not just an offensive gag about a tragic event that’s still pretty raw. It’s not even really a joke about Charlie Hebdo. Its only purpose is to shock, eliciting gasps and maybe an angry response. But more than others of its kind, this joke — and many of the other tasteless and/or un-PC yuks in “Ted 2” — is truly up-front about only riling feathers and absolutely nothing else. There are race jokes, gay panic jokes, jokes about 9/11 and Robin Williams and, perhaps less jarringly, jokes about Amanda Seyfried’s large eyes. And most if not all of them exist solely to raise eyebrows and break monocles. They’re almost good-natured, even sweet, in their sometimes messed-up way.
Also worth noting: better these than, say, a set piece involving a stockroom of semen and a slippery floor. Indeed, “Ted 2” — like much of MacFarlane’s work — is extremely hit-and-miss, throwing out gags that are by turns creative, loopy and far too easy. Once again, there’s plenty of weed humor, where the presence of weed itself is supposed to be the joke. There’s a sequence where Ted drives a car. (He doesn’t drive it well.) These are all time-wasters, but they’re surrounded by MacFarlane’s more rarified gifts, for inspired loopiness and riffing. A thumb-twiddling set piece can be mostly forgiven if it’s preceded by the MacFarlane-voiced sentient teddy bear launching into a brief, impromptu rendition of “Tiny Dancer” for the thinnest possible reason. Even casting Dennis Haysbert as a fertility clinic doctor is a weird kind of funny.
MacFarlane never met a pop culture reference — particularly an ’80s or ’90s pop culture reference — he didn’t pounce on, and sure enough he grants another couple appearances to “Ted 1” standout Sam J. Jones, he of 1980’s “Flash Gordon.” But the rest is unnecessarily original. Here, Ted, wanting to save his marriage (to a trashy Jessica Barth) by adopting, finds that legally he doesn’t count as a person. So begins the quest, with the help of a young, inexperienced, clumsy, pop culture illiterate (but perennially toking, natch) lawyer, played by a semi-utilized Seyfried, to prove his personhood. He’s also being once again pursued by Giovanni Ribisi’s creepy guy, but it can’t all be fresh. (Oh, and before we forget entirely, Mark Wahlberg’s John is there too, really mostly for ad-lib purposes and a little bit of heart.)
Even the plot is tailor-made for shock purposes. In his quest to prove he’s, if not human, than a sentient being worthy of rights, Ted routinely likens himself to minorities, as well as slaves. He identifies with Dred Scott and when he watches “Roots” he declaims, “That’s just like me! That’s exactly what I’m going through!” It’s actually half-sincere about its human rights angle, but it’s also very open about just trying to drop jaws by going there about race, and in between jokes about black penises.
It knows what it’s doing, and what it’s doing is reducing shock jokes to its most base element as mere shocks. MacFarlane himself is an enlightened guy — a passionate advocate for gay rights who’s made another bromance with gay jokes, although debatably one with next level gay jokes. There’s an entire, lengthy subplot in which Ted and John try very, very hard to jerk off Tom Brady (as himself), and there are two positive gay characters (Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn), whose main character trait is they like to beat up nerds. Even a gay panic gag is immediately followed by a lengthy, elaborate homage to “On the Town.”
One could argue “Ted 2” represents an evolution in MacFarlane’s comedic sensibility. It pines for a utopia where audiences understand that a joke about Charlie Hebdo is not actually belittling tragedy, and might even take the edge off the unspeakable. Other times it’s just an inconsistent comedy, albeit one that can even hit hard with a leftfield “Jurassic Park” more joy-making than anything in “Jurassic World.” It arrives in a climate sick with touchiness, and though it doesn’t make that explicitly its subject, you can sense a comic trying to use jokes to ultimately chill people out. Some of them are even funny.