Unlike the millions of satisfied customers who made the first Ted a half-billion-dollar hit three years ago, I had a problem with that movie. The notion of a trash-talking teddy bear is pretty funny—but funny for how long? Even a trash-talk prodigy like Seth MacFarlane, who directed the film, co-wrote the script, and embodied the titular bear via motion-capture, can grind you down at extended length. As bracing as it was to witness PC pieties being curb-stomped with such unaccustomed abandon, after about an hour of babe jokes, homo gags, and genial racial slurs, I just wanted the movie to shut up.
Ted 2, with MacFarlane back again in mo-cap harness, is more easily endured. Much trash is still talked (in an uproarious fertility-clinic scene, for example: "You're covered in rejected black guys' sperm, like a Kardashian"). But the anything-for-a-laugh antics are leavened with references to actual social issues, both of-the-moment (gay marriage) and age-old (chattel slavery). This sounds lame, I know—a desperate striving for substance. But it adds useful narrative ballast, and the issues arise fairly naturally from the story's motivating dilemma: the quest of a good-hearted (if foul-mouthed) bear to have his humanity acknowledged by the forces of government oppression.
The movie picks up more or less where the last one left off. Ted and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), his fellow check-out clerk in a Boston grocery store, are now married, while Ted's childhood friend John (Mark Wahlberg), who wedded Mila Kunis at the end of the previous film, is now a divorced Internet-porn addict. When Ted and Tami-Lynn decide they want a child, they are compelled by Ted's lack of traditional procreational equipment to visit an adoption agency. This sets off an alarm in the halls of officialdom, and Ted soon finds his credit cards canceled, his marriage voided, and his existential status harshly defined: he doesn't qualify as human, so he can only be "property."
This is great news for the devious Donny (Giovanni Ribisi again), who has long wanted to make Ted his own property. Donny now works at the Hasbro toy company, and he devises a scheme with his boss (John Carroll Lynch) to kidnap Ted, determine the secret of his near-human capabilities, and then begin reproducing him as a mass consumer product.
While Donny stalks Ted, the bear himself is in court, trying to make his case as a sentient being with the help of fledgling civil-rights attorney Samantha (Amanda Seyfried), an after-hours pothead who carries a penis-shaped bong in her bag. Samantha provides romantic possibilities for the downcast John and of course joke fodder for Ted. ("Was it just kissin' last night," he asks John, "or was there finger stuff?") We realize early on that the courtroom scenes are headed in the direction of Miracle on 34th Street. The kidnap plot is a little fresher, leading to a long chase through the geek-packed precinct of New York Comic Con. There are many laughs along the way, almost all of them as happily deplorable as you'd expect.
Returning to the fray along with Ribisi and Barth this time are Patrick Warburton, as John's snotty gay work colleague, and Sam J. Jones, the onetime Flash Gordon star, again playing a coke-addled version of himself. But some of the better moments belong to newbies. A handjob plot involving NFL quarterback Tom Brady doesn't really amount to much, but Jay Leno is a surprise, scurrying out of a men's room after a gay-sex encounter, and an entirely non-scurrilous scene featuring Liam Neeson and a box of Trix is surreal perfection.
We know that MacFarlane, who once again cowrote the script with his Family Guy partners Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, is a funny man. But his brand of shock comedy is growing frayed, and you keep wishing he'd move on to something at least a little less gaudy. Toward the end of the movie, there's an exchange between Ted and Morgan Freeman, playing another civil-rights lawyer, that suggests better things. Drinking in Freeman's sonorous delivery, Ted waits a beat and then says, "I wanna sleep on a bed made of your voice." Nice, Seth. Go for it.