Bathroom humor meets courtroom drama in "Ted 2," Seth MacFarlane's sequel to the hit 2012 comedy about a hard-living, foul-mouthed teddy bear brought to life by a wish from his best buddy, John (Mark Wahlberg).
"2" finds Ted — voiced by MacFarlane, who also directed and co-wrote — fighting for his civil rights when Massachusetts rules that he's not a person and therefore isn't eligible to adopt a child. Naturally, John has his back as does a like-minded young lawyer played by Amanda Seyfried.
As for "Ted 2's" critical reception, we have a bit of a hung jury. Some critics appreciate or at least give in to the film's onslaught of risque humor, while others say it's unamusing and out of touch.
In one of the more favorable reviews, the Times' Rebecca Keegan writes, "While 'Ted 2' is absurd and occasionally disgusting, it is also wickedly funny." MacFarlane and Wahlberg "embody the comedy truths that a cute, cuddly toy can get away with anything and a Boston accent is inherently entertaining," while the film around them is "surprisingly earnest."
Crucial to the movie's humor, Keegan says, is the distinction (not always successfully made) that Ted is "ignorant, yes, but he's not a bigot," and many of the punchlines serve as commentary on his own puerile worldview. "It's a conundrum of MacFarlane's career that he depends on viewers to grasp [such nuances] at the same time they should be the kind of people who genuinely enjoy a good Kardashian joke. How much does the Venn diagram of those two groups overlap? I don't know. I just know I'm in it."
The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle is apparently in it too. He writes, "Some people won't want to laugh at 'Ted 2,' and they might succeed if they fold their arms across their chest, close their eyes and gag themselves. But they might not even then. … MacFarlane is like some weird combination of a stupid, dirty-minded teenager and a brilliant comic master. His impulses are sophomoric, but he knows where to find the punch line, and he hits it, again and again."
As for MacFarlane's cast mates, LaSalle says, Seyfried is "a very good sport" and there's "something not only funny but winning in the way that Wahlberg plays his scenes with Ted."
Less impressed — much less — is the New York Times' Manohla Dargis. She writes, "Mr. MacFarlane can be funny, but 'Ted 2' is insultingly lazy hack work that is worth discussing primarily because of how he tries and fails to turn race, and specifically black men, into comedy fodder." (Ted and John, for example, "repeatedly employ a vulgarism for black penises.")
Dargis adds, "This isn't a question of political correctness, the default complaint of those who just want their critics to shut up. If anything, American comedies need to take on race more, to test boundaries and audiences alike. First, though, they have to grasp the differences between appropriation and engagement, and between comedy that supports the racist status quo and comedy that shreds it to pieces. Just sliming us doesn't cut it."
Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty gives "Ted 2" a C+ grade and says "the sequel still manages to walk the tightrope between clever and crass. For a while, at least. Then, after the 10th or 11th semen gag, crass wins out, leaving clever in the dust. That's when you realize what it must be like to be trapped in detention with a bunch of 15-year-old boys who think there's nothing more hilarious than repeating the same jokes about porn, pot, and pulling your pud over and over again. It's funny, until it's not."
At some point, Nashawaty says, "MacFarlane will probably have to give up his 'Did I say that?' merry prankster routine and grow up a little. When that time comes, I have no doubt he'll nail it."
The Village Voice's Stephanie Zacharek, on the other hand, concedes up front that "Some movies are indefensible, and 'Ted 2' is one of them. Not only is this a movie about a libidinous, foul-mouthed stuffed bear; it's the sequel to an earlier movie about a libidinous, foul-mouthed stuffed bear. But I laughed and laughed at 'Ted 2' — as I did at the 2012 'Ted' — and I can hardly tell you what that says about me, let alone about you."
Still on the fence? The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips calls the sequel "madly uneven" but says, "This one's an easy predictive call. If you got your laughs out of 'Ted,' you'll likely come crawling back for 'Ted 2.' It's not the same film, but it's same-adjacent."
Admitting that he "laughed three or four times," Phillips adds, "What I said three years ago about the formula in 'Ted' goes for 'Ted 2': MacFarlane's career is built on 'a high quotient of startlingly crude ethnic and cultural stereotypes leavened by a sincere appreciation for American popular music of another era.' I've seen worse comedies this year, and I'll see better."
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