Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website and Luminary Daily

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Ted 2 is a creatively absurdist rebound for Seth MacFarlane, who brings his cartoonish antics to the big screen in a sequel that proves stronger and less offensive than its predecessor. While MacFarlane still has a knack for poorly conceived jokes regarding race and homosexuality, his film is mostly on-point in a story that deals with the titular teddy bear struggling to establish his personhood in the U.S. This sounds perfectly ripe for our very own Bear Reviews but serves mostly as an excuse for Ted to jump through plenty of hoops in Boston and New York City to return his life to pot-smoking bliss. This is the stoner comedy that MacFarlane wanted to make with his 2012 original, since here the duo of Ted and Mark Wahlberg’s John are provided a worthy partner in Samantha (Amanda Seyfried), a brilliant young lawyer who recently passed her BAR exam. She also smokes weed to clear up migraines and, well, that friendship kindles. Suffice to say, Ted 2 is a little too long but never unfunny, driving toward its conclusion with ridiculous force and delivering multiple laughs per minute.

As mentioned before, the premise of the film is fairly straight-forward: Ted is denied citizenship because a technicality emerges after his marriage with Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), the bombshell cashier with whom he works. Ted and Tami-Lynn decide that, when their marriage begins to crumble, that they must do what all married couples do: have a baby. The problem is, Ted is a teddy bear and therefore doesn’t have the reproductive parts to make that happen. When they cannot find a sperm donor (after numerous comedic attempts at making that happen, most notably with a certain Boston sports icon), they decide to adopt. This triggers the aforementioned legal battle that Ted must face. Knowing that they face an uphill battle, they get advice from Seyfried’s Sam L. Jackson, whose name proves great fodder for the two leads. Nonetheless, their legal battle in court is joined by the opposition backed by super-attorney Shep Wild (John Slattery), who has never lost a court case. He’s also backed by Hasbro and the ever-insistent Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), who wants a Ted for his own. If Ted is proven to be property and not a person, then they can tear him open and see what makes him come to life.

If the story sounds like it’s comparing Ted’s plight to the horrors of slavery and modern-day civil rights battle for equal rights, it does just that. MacFarlane’s biggest weakness here is that he makes his underlying message all too obvious, with Ted repeating the notion in the courtroom (albeit in his own offensive way) and an African-American cashier calling Ted out on his comparisons to slavery. Outside of those few poorly written moments, Ted 2 is an absolute roar. MacFarlane knows how to visually stage scenes and use sight gags to great effect; it’s high praise, but at his best he reminds me of a perverted, stoned Mel Brooks. Most of the film’s funniest moments come from non-sequiturs that don’t drive the story forward but prove perfectly fit for the characters (most notably the concept of screaming “sad things at an improv troupe,” in a scene that remains horribly hilarious). That’s the most surprising thing about the film that works considering it’s usually a critique of MacFarlane’s style. The co-writer/director understands his characters and has practically every joke stem from their personas. That’s rewarding as a viewer.

The film’s pace lulls in the middle but the jokes never really stop, a testament to MacFarlane learning from his misfire in 2013, A Million Ways to Die in the West. His actors also appear equally game, with Amanda Seyfried particularly standing out as a self-deprecating woman who actually feels like her own character next to the main couple’s stoner bromance. Wahlberg has a few great moments as well, most notably when he gets too high in Samantha’s office and needs guidance home. The film, without spoilers, also has the best use of the Jurassic Park theme outside of said film that you could possibly imagine. Music has always been a focal point of MacFarlane’s storytelling, as Family Guy and American Dad would often employ musical numbers in every episode. Here, he has a wonderfully old-fashioned opening credits sequence and Amanda Seyfried singing a campfire melody in the middle of the film. They don’t detract but merely show MacFarlane’s wacky sense of paying homage to storytellers of yesteryear. Ted 2 ultimately proves more coherent than its original film and also more funny and particular, making it a worthy sequel during these summer months.

Grade: ★ (out of 5)

Written by Eric Forthun