Wednesday 15 July 2015

Ted 2 (2015) - Movie Review

Seth MacFarlane honestly frustrates me. He’s proven time and again that he is more than capable of being funny, whether it’s with American Dad, the first Ted movie or the early days of Family Guy. But more recently, he has severely fallen by the wayside with stuff like The Cleveland Show, A Million Ways To Die In The West and the current days of Family Guy. His track record actually has a couple of bizarre similarities to that of another animated sitcom creator: Matt Groening. Both started out with shows that were great to begin with and are fondly remembered by all, provided that you stopped watching about halfway through their run, while their other show got lesser attention while managing to outperform the original in certain aspects, most notably in their consistency. MacFarlane, despite what some of his creations may argue, is not a bad creative mind. Hell, watching the first Ted movie again in prep for this review, it’s actually better than I remember it being. But how does the sequel hold up?

The plot: After trying to adopt a child with his wife Tami-Lyn (Jessica Barth), Ted (Seth MacFarlane) discovers that because of his abnormal position of being a teddy bear brought to life by a wish on a shooting star, he isn’t recognized as a person by the U.S. government. Not wanting to accept this, Ted and his best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) decide to take them to court for his civil rights, enlisting rookie lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) to represent them.

Okay, I’d feel a little remiss if I didn’t bring this up, but this kind of story about standing up for civil rights is kind of apropos given the recent legal hearing concerning marriage equality in the U.S. That said, that gives this entire story a feeling of being at the right time but in the wrong place; specifically, in a film involving Seth MacFarlane. The man has a chronic problem with soap-boxing in his work, most noticeably on Family Guy through the character of Brian; it’s no coincidence that he uses his own voice for the character. He would occasionally stop the plot dead in its tracks to monologue about whatever issues he felt like discussing, coherency be damned. Still, the soap-boxing only became a problem later on in the show’s run; hell, he even used Brian as an allegory for the treatment of black people in one of the show’s earlier episodes that worked rather well. This story has a lot of promise to it, which is why it’s so disappointing that the plot is as muddled as it is. I get that it is only meant to serve as a thread to connect the funny conversations and set pieces together, but then the film actually does make an effort to say something with its story. The problem is that it doesn’t seem entirely sure what it wants to say.

Despite how well-trodden the ground is when it comes to stories about what makes a person, the film doesn’t seem to have any real points to make other than Ted is one. It doesn’t help that they keep comparing him to other minorities that are considered by some to be less than people, like black people back during the days of slavery or even homosexuals today. Such comparisons work within the film’s narrative, but rather than trying to bring everyone the U.S. has oppressed under a single banner, it feels more like the writers couldn’t decide who to align themselves with and just kept ping-ponging between the two. As much as I have a major issue with Brian’s monologing, regardless of how self-important it could get, the intended message was clear and Seth seemed like he knew exactly what he wanted to lecture his audience on. Here, the whole ‘measure of a man’ debate is full of enough logic holes for even the greenest of legal advisors to cleave through, not the least of which being the simple fact what Ted is and what he is capable of. Yeah, said fact is part of the joke but that doesn’t make it any less stupid.

Not that the legalese is the only problem the writing here has. Another major misstep within the story is the absence of Mila Kunis as Lori this time around, replaced with Samantha as the new love interest. Given how the first film ended, with Lori having accepted Ted’s place in John’s life, it takes the rather saccharine but still nice conclusion that film had and shivs it in the kidney with how she’s written out here. Basically, it largely ignores her actions in the finale, right down to forgetting that she saved Ted’s life, and sticks with her inability to accept Ted and John as a package deal being why they split up. I don’t have a problem with the fact that Lori isn’t in the film; rather, I hate that her character was disregarded this badly for the sake of a new love interest. Then there’s also the fact that, despite the interesting premise that pleases my inner Trekkie (adding a couple of Deep Space Nine cast members in well-placed cameos helped as well), *SPOILERS* it ends up boiling down to a disappointingly similar climax to the first film, right down to it being Giovanni Ribisi returning as Donnie who kidnaps Ted and John having to rescue him.

The comedy is what I’ve come to expect from Seth and his stable of co-writers, in that it is very hit-and-miss. Their fondness for referential humour makes for some good laughs between John and Ted, and even reaches a point of self-awareness when we repeatedly see Samantha not getting the jokes because, like a lot of people in the world, she isn’t plugged directly into the veins of pop culture. It frequently reaches for shock humour, most egregiously during the scene at the Improv, but just because it’s tasteless doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad; hell, some darker part of my sense of humour kind of liked that scene. I will admit that the scene involving Tom Brady did get to me a bit, for reasons I have gone on at length about on this blog already, but thankfully that scene is mercifully short. Then there are the just plain weird moments where I couldn’t make heads or tails of whether I thought they were funny or not, namely Liam Neeson’s cameo as one of Ted’s customers. Whether it’s because the jokes go on for too long or the situations themselves were just confusing, or probably both, there was an unfortunate amount of dead air in the film. I’m thankful that it didn’t reach the point of causing embarrassment or anger at the lack of laughs, more just bewilderment… have to say, even with MacFarlane’s previous work, that’s a new one.

As if all this didn’t smack of desperation for laughs already, there’s also the fact he seems to be recycling jokes at this point: Several times during the film, I picked out musical cues and gags that he had previously employed on Family Guy in pretty much the same context here. The most blatant example of this is when he re-used a gag from It’s A Trap that was just a re-enactment of the Mess Around scene from Planes, Trains & Automobiles; it takes a special kind of lazy writing to re-use a joke that you stole in the first place. And yet, despite this wall of bitching, I stand by my assessment of it being hit-and-miss as quite a few of the jokes do work, particularly with some of the shots fired that I can’t help but approve of: The present state of Saturday Night Live, Hasbro collaborating with the main villain to make new toys, even a scene mocking the hideous casting decisions concerning the Batman Vs. Superman movie. There’s also the fight that takes place at New York Comic-Con that, while not being quite as glorious as a similar fight in Tomorrowland, was still fun to watch and even made for one of the better referential gags involving Patrick Warburton, returning as the bro-iest gay guy in existence.

Seth has always had a love of big band and swing music and, much like the very sitcom-style score of the original, that is echoed here with Walter Murphy once again in charge of music. This fan-boy attitude starts off the film on a pretty sour note, as the opening credits are used to show a large choreographed dance sequence in the style of a Busby-Berkley musical. Even considering both of the cover albums Seth has released in the last few years, including a Christmas album, this is easily the most musically self-indulgent thing he’s done. Thankfully, nothing else in the film reaches that level as the music does well at accompanying the film; I still have the same problem with it as I did with the first one, in that it doesn’t sound right for a film soundtrack and sounds more like Family Guy’s leftovers, but it has definitely grown on me a bit recently. Also, another note on the soundtrack choices: For some reason, Tiffany got credited for a cameo in the credits here just because “I Think We’re Alone Now” was playing in one scene, despite not appearing in any of the film proper. Wrap your head around that one.

All in all, despite the numerous story issues and redundant moments, this is still up to the MacFarlane standard. By that, I mean that if you know his very abrasive and reference-heavy style of humour and can go with it, then you should like this. It isn’t as good as the original, which despite its clich├ęd plot was a lot more focused than this, but it’s an alright movie on its own terms. I just hope that whatever MacFarlane works on next isn’t as phoned-in as this ended up being.

1 comment:

  1. The comedy was still there and was generally as entertaining as the comedy in the first.