"We're a fun hospital."
Seth MacFarlane might just be the luckiest man on the face of the earth. He has managed to make a career out of being a career .200 hitter, as his joke success rate runs about one laugh for every five jokes he throws at an audience. With his feature directorial debut, Ted, MacFarlane struck gold by taking the buddy comedy and giving it a fresh twist. While it's almost impossible to be let down by MacFarlane after his last film, the abysmal A Million Ways to Die in the West, Ted 2 manages to not only be a letdown, but it also demonstrates clear as day the fact that his limitations as a creative force are virtually incalculable.
The most pressing problem with Ted 2 is that it's not a comedy. There is nothing inherently funny about anything directly related to the plot. Remove from the equation the fact that Ted is a talking bear and it's the story of someone with a solid group of supporters trying to prove in a court of law that they're a person that deserves rights too. When the entire basis for the comedy comes from, "yeah, but he's a teddy bear," that just doesn't cut it. That was the same conceit the first film hinged on entirely. There is not a single laugh in this film derived from any plot driven situation. All of the film's laughs, which for me numbered about five or six, came from a random non-sequitur injected in after the exposition and plot development in a given scene had run its course. This is MacFarlane's stock in trade, and in a 22 minute animated series, it works just fine, but stretched out to two interminable hours, it's a wonder the formula works at all.
The problems start almost immediately as the film opens with a song and dance number over the opening credits which is completely absent any sort of punchline. Any audience for his work gets by now that MacFarlane's got a hard-on for big production numbers, but the fact that this isn't played for laughs in any way isn't so much a sign of things to come as it is a harbinger of doom. The film continues in this vein, setting up situations that have absolutely no pay-off beyond, "hey, let's go do something funny since there was no humor in that last scene." I cannot stress enough how patently unfunny this comedy is, but the fact that they essentially recreate the weak third act of the first film, only this time bigger and even less funny is all the indication I need to give. Couple this with the fact that the big emotional reveal at the film's climax is identical to an episode of Family Guy, and I think I've conclusively proven my point.
Mark Wahlberg returns to the role of John that he originated in the first film, and to say that he's checked out is an understatement. The fact that MacFarlane's script gives him next to nothing to do certainly doesn't help, but Walhberg's performance fits the definition of contractually obligated to appear. His love affair with the much younger Mila Kunis in the first film was infused with enough creepy overtones that selecting the even younger Amanda Seyfried to play his romantic interest here mostly deletes those overtones and just makes it plain old creepy. As Ted fights to prove he's a person that has a right to be married to the gross stereotype that is Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), Wahlberg and Seyfried fade into the background until they're really completely unnecessary to the plot.
Giovanni Ribisi's back too, playing the exact same arc he played in the first film, and any humor his character was able to infuse into the film the first time around is completely evaporated. His jokes here are limited to a ridiculous hairpiece and an obsession with urinal cakes. Hilarious, right? This is the point where I would normally cry out, these are the jokes people, but these aren't even jokes. Running gags involving dishes of candy on the desks of important people to Google redirecting people to porn fall completely flat, as does a recurring hashtag joke that amounts to, "hashtags, amirite?" There's no comedy in any of this kind of thing any more than there's comedy left in some hack stand-up's set about airplane food. It's played out and no one has the heart to tell MacFarlane.
What MacFarlane needs most is an editor, not just to cut down his two-hour films, but someone willing to tell him that something just isn't funny. His creative triumvirate which includes old pals Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild just don't understand how to construct a comedy film. They seem to just want to take the same plot they would apply to a 22-minute episode of one of their animated series and just stuff it to the gills with filler like montages and musical numbers. It's bad enough that it's a comedy without any jokes, but now his films are becoming virtually content free. There is roughly twenty minutes worth of actual, honest-to-goodness plot in this film and the other hour and forty minutes is spent watching people that look like they're having fun and don't want to stop to explain to you why they're having such a blast.
Ted 2 is not a despicable film like Entourage. It's mostly innocuous fun just without any of the fun. Its laughs are almost exclusively mean-spirited or designed to shock the audience into laughing, lest they be considered stuffy spoil sports. This is MacFarlane's bread and butter, and it works fine in small doses, but over the course of a mostly non-comedic two hours, it's more troubling than merely bad. Recreating moments from other films like The Breakfast Club, Raging Bull, Jurassic Park, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is not funny in and of itself. It merely serves as a reminder to a bored audience of much better films they could be spending their time watching. I think it's safe to say that the verdict is out on MacFarlane: He's really only ever been good at one thing—mining familiarity with a given topic to create a joke—and frankly, he's not even good at that anymore.
GO Rating: 1/5
[Photos via Rotten Tomatoes]