It’s funny that the poster for Ted 2 features the title character with his back to the camera and his hands suggestively poised near his crotch above the tagline “Ted is coming, again” because the whole movie revolves around the fact that Ted can’t come, not even once. Ted doesn’t have any genitals or a reproductive system, so he can’t have a baby with his wife. His search for a sperm donor eventually spills into the legal system, where a court case will decide a surprisingly complex question: Is Ted a person?

During the closing arguments of his case, Ted’s attorney says that personhood can be measured by several characteristics, including self-awareness and “a capacity for empathy.” It’s in that last key point where Ted — and Ted 2 — comes up short, by couching the journey of an obnoxious misanthrope as a plucky underdog story. Ted mocks every minority, ethnicity, and sexual orientation under the sun, then gets upset when his own rights are stomped on. (Come to think of it, maybe he doesn’t have any self-awareness, either.)

The problem with Ted 2, the very R-rated sequel to the very R-rated comedy hit from co-writer/director/voice actor Seth MacFarlane isn’t so much the content of its edgy humor as its tenor. It’s one thing to make a funny movie about a loathsome jerk. (Think, for example, of the hilarious and cynical Bad Santa.) It’s another thing to make a funny movie that treats a loathsome jerk like a “good guy”; that sympathizes with him and encourages the audience to sympathize with him as well, even as he refuses to feel an ounce of concern for anyone around him. Ted’s jokes aren’t nearly as objectionable as the idea that we should like him for making them. In the parlance of this movie, don’t pour gallons of semen on me and tell me it’s raining.

That’s particularly frustrating because Ted 2 is often very entertaining. There are several surprising (and ingenious) celebrity cameos, a hilarious discussion about author F. Scott Fitzgerald (“Why did you just say ‘F--- Scott Fitzgerald?’”), a more satisfying Jurassic Park reference than anything in Jurassic World, and plenty of McFarlane’s patented non sequitur humor. (The best gag involves Ted and Mark Wahlberg’s John deliberately terrible suggestions to improv comics.) There’s enough solid, clever comedy to suggest MacFarlane doesn’t need to rely on the crutch of “shocking” racial and homophobic humor.

When he does anyway, it really works against the story, which follows Ted and John in their quest to reaffirm Ted’s legal status after his marriage to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) gets annulled by the U.S. government. MacFarlane throws in lots of sad close-ups of Ted’s big eyes and his fuzzy brows arching in astonishment at the callous indifference of the legal system (and let it be noted that Ted himself is an astounding visual effect, as convincingly real as any in recent memory). Viewers are meant to care about this poor unfortunate creature and his simple hunger to be recognized as a human being (or bear, whatever). But who cares about the emotional well-being of a guy who literally throws apples at joggers for kicks (and then laughs even harder when a jogger stumbles into a cyclist and knocks him off his bike)?

Ted’s sole redeeming characteristics are his love for his wife (who he frequently mistreats) and his friendship with John, who drops his entire life to help Ted win his court case (if John had a job, he never goes to it even a single time over the course of the film). The Thunder Buddies hire an inexperienced attorney named Sam Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), who has somehow never heard of Samuel L. Jackson even though they share a name. As the case develops, they all get into a variety of misadventures, fistfights, and convenient product placement for Bud Light and Hasbro.

So is Ted a person? That depends; do bros count as people? By the end of the film, Ted’s convinced many skeptics that he’s grown, and learned some valuable lessons about compassion. Although I did laugh on occasion, I remain unswayed. Judgment for the plaintiff.


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