Even more than its predecessor, “Ted 2” lives between quote marks and inside parentheses. Everything in the movie (opening wide today) is a reference to something else, and global audiences not raised on a steady diet of American pop-culture might require footnotes to decipher the intricacies of co-writer and director Seth McFarlane’s screenplay.
The references run high, low and headline-ripped, defying the typically tortoise-paced progression of movie distribution by riffing on Deflate-gate, Charlie Hebdo, Ferguson and Bill Cosby—not to mention perennial favorites Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber, Gollum and Star Wars, along with more intellectual benchmarks like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Busby Berkeley. So much of “Ted 2” derives its laughs, its charms and its retching lewdness from other sources that it should probably owe royalties to Perez Hilton and the Internet Movie Database. The plot, wafer-thin and as nutritionally empty as a diet soda, is merely a front for cultural re-appropriation—a framework designed to be jettisoned.
It’s far from a Well Made Film in the traditional sense, but for viewers hip to McFarlane’s game, this hodgepodge delivers all the laughs its forebear elicited and more. McFarlane employs the “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” strategy of a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” episode, where the jokes compound in such rapid succession that they can hardly be savored before the next one intrudes—a pleasant problem for any comedy.
The film picks up where “Ted” left off, with the titular bear wedding his white-trash, fiancée Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). A year later, their marriage is a shambles, leaving the couple with one option for survival: having a baby. Between Tami-Lynn’s infertility and Ted’s own lack, of, well … manhood, the prospect quickly proves impossible. Worse yet for Ted, a trip to an adoption service tips off the government to his status as a nonhuman, which results in the annulment of his marriage and the cancellation of his accounts.
The fight for Ted’s personhood becomes a civil-rights cause celebre that looks back to slavery and presently to cases involving marriage equality. In Ted’s corner is his BFF John (Mark Wahlberg) and a rookie lawyer who accepts his case pro-bono (Amanda Seyfried).
The movie strains for more political relevance than the original “Ted,” but for a film containing the single grossest and longest sequence of spilled semen in motion-picture history—and whose climactic brawl is set at a Comic-Con—it’s hard to take it seriously as a statement movie. It fares far better as a straight-up comedy, and a particular type of comedy at that.
“Ted 2” marinates in the winking, self-conscious kitsch of 1980s humor, updating it for audiences that know better. There’s a cheesy musical montage of the three protagonists hilariously prepping for trial by dancing on library tables and shooting spitballs in each other’s ears. In another musical interlude, set in the wilderness, animals from squirrels to penguins to lobsters frolic to hear Seyfried’s guitar-strummed lullaby. Another character delivers information to his superior by slamming a newspaper on his desk, with an article about Ted screaming at him in bold type, as if this item wasn’t already yesterday’s Twitter trend.
Far all his 21st century reference points and foul-mouthed envelope-pushing, McFarlane reveals himself to be something of a sentimental nostalgist, as much a softy for earlier forms of entertainment as his longtime adult-animation rivals, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I guess.