He’s quick-witted but lazy.
That description applies to the wished-to-life teddy bear in “Ted 2.”
It’s also a perfect account of the approach by filmmaker Seth MacFarlane, who cranks out a sequel to his entertaining 2012 hit comedy full of one-liners but little initiative.
With his cuddly frame and caustic Boston accent, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) shares an ongoing friendship with childhood pal John (Mark Wahlberg). But the sentient plaything’s year-old marriage to gum-smacking bimbo Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) is already souring.
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Desperate to keep the honeymoon going, Ted and Tami-Lynn decide to adopt a baby. (This comes after gallons of artificial insemination gags.) The couple are denied when Ted is told, “In the eyes of the state, you are not a person.”
The state considers him property.
Hoping to reverse this ruling, Ted wants to take the issue to court, even though he realizes, “We don’t know any lawyers. All our friends make sandwiches.”
Enter Samantha Leslie Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), a cannabis-sucking lawyer who doesn’t understand the joke that her name can be shortened to Sam L. Jackson. In fact, all pop culture references are lost on her, a constant source of irritation for Ted and John, even if it can’t thwart the latter’s burgeoning crush on the attorney.
Together the trio embark on a quest to prove that the cosmic worth of this teddy bear bears defending.
As the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, it’s no surprise a “Ted” sequel was brought to life. What worked as a fresh and twisted premise in the original appears trickier to extend into an ongoing franchise. MacFarlane (with “Family Guy” co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) portions out enough funny gags to make the project watchable. Highlights include Ted and John hitting a local improv show to yell out “sad suggestions” when the players ask for audience setups:
“Name a place,” a performer asks.
Ted yells, “Ferguson, Missouri.”
The throwaway scenes like these (or when the friends spend an evening on their rooftop heaving apples at joggers) deliver short bursts of raunchy punch lines. As do numerous cameos by big, big stars, some of whom prove to be outrageously good sports.
Less successful are MacFarlane’s homages to ’80s movies, such as a reckless-driving sequence from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and a campfire song from “Three Amigos!” They’re not parodies so much as straight-up re-creations. They might actually seem funnier to people who haven’t seen the original movies.
MacFarlane’s fundamental misfire is tied more to the plot than the jokes. He makes a movie about determining the nature of a soul when the individual in question exhibits only behavior that is soulless.
Ted himself has all the value of an Internet troll. He dispenses snarky, cruel comments. He treats everyone with disdain or disinterest. When he’s not working a punch-the-clock job, he sits around firing up his bong. (There are so many scenes of casual pot smoking in “Ted 2” you’d swear Seth Rogen wrote it.)
Therein lies the problem. No matter how “funny” this furry loudmouth is, he displays only negative human traits. He hasn’t earned his humanity. So when Samantha compares his court case to the plight of Dred Scott or when Ted watches LeVar Burton whipped in “Roots” and likens it to himself, the sentiment rings hollow. And offensive.
Not in the hilarious faux-offensive way of the improv show scene, either.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Rated R | Time: 1:48