Like its 2012 predecessor, Seth MacFarlane’s Ted 2 kicks off like a delirious blast of laughing gas. Even though we’re all familiar with the film’s one-joke premise by now—the raunchy, bromantic adventures of an affably underachieving Boston chowderhead (Mark Wahlberg) and his childhood pal, an adorable stuffed bear come to foulmouthed life (voiced by MacFarlane)—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.
Picking up shortly after the first film left off, Wahlberg’s John is in the dumps after breaking up with his wife (played by Mila Kunis in the first film), while Ted has tied the knot with Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), a gum-snapping townie who works in the same supermarket. The couple’s honeymoon phase is over, so they decide to save their marriage by having a kid. Problem is, as lifelike as Ted seems, he’s still an anatomically incorrect plush toy. So he and his “thundah buddy fa life,” John, have to find a sperm donor, leading to sticky encounters with Flash Gordon himself (Sam J. Jones) and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. After failing to procure celebrity seed, Ted and Tami-Lynn move on to adoption. But it turns out that the state refuses to recognize Ted as a person, and the film quickly downshifts into a civil rights crusade to prove that Ted’s more than just John’s property. He deserves rights. With Amanda Seyfried as their stoned counselor, they take Ted’s case to court. There’s also a needless subplot about Giovanni Ribisi as a creepy janitor scheming with Hasbro to kidnap Ted to see what makes him tick.
Plenty of decent movies have been built on flimsier narrative scaffolding than Ted 2’s, but MacFarlane and writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild are smarter than a lot of the material they’ve come up with here. Sure, some of their jokes are inspired (Liam Neeson stealthily buying a box of Trix cereal worried that it’s just for kids; a series of jabs at Seyfried’s Gollum-esque saucer eyes), but too many are just loutish and lazy and don’t land. Of course, not every comedy—even the proudly lowbrow ones—has to be a Mensa-level exercise in meta humor. But MacFarlane, who takes such mischievous delight in thumbing his nose at the uptight guardians of political correctness that he almost seems to get off on turning himself into a target (most notably with his “We saw your boobs” 2013 Oscar-hosting gig), tends to be sharper than the inoffensively offensive gags he tosses off here. Which is a shame because he’s just handing his detractors more ammo. At some point, 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. C+