by Bill Stamets

Ted 2: Intellectual property stuffed with synthetic cotton

Posted in film review, Ted 2 by Bill Stamets on June 29, 2015

Ted 2
directed by Seth MacFarlane, who voices the title character
written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
acted by Mark Wahlberg, Amanda Seyfried, Morgan Freeman, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi
presented by Universal Pictures and MRC
rated R by MPAA “for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use”

 

Seth MacFarlane’s unspecial sequel to “Ted” (2012) is vulgar comedy about a teddy bear that can walk and talk trash. “Ted 2,” though, is notable for a legal issue posed by this Hasbro toy: its right to marry one human and adopt another human in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Universal Pictures trailer foregrounds this plot line. Many critics downplay it.

Voiced by MacFarlane, Ted came to life in the first film. Through the wish of an 8-year-old Boston boy, this Christmas present morphs into more than an imaginary friend. Years later, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) watch TV, smoke dope, eat junk food and drink beer together. MacFarlane presents these lifelong pals as adorable morons.

Ted weds Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) at the start of “Ted 2.” They both work as cashiers at a grocery. A year later, their marriage teeters. A co-worker recommends they have a baby. Although Ted shows he cannot spell “penis,” he knows he lacks one. A counselor at an adoption agency tells him why he is not a prospect for fatherhood: “Ted, in the eyes of the state you are not a person… technically you are classified as property.” Then Massachusetts annuls his marriage.

Lawyer Samantha L. Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) takes on Ted’s case. Although she’s never heard of her screen near-namesake, Samuel L. Jackson– “Have seen any movie ever? He’s the black guy,” Ted tutors her. He is impressed that she keeps a bong under her desk and smokes at work, even as he repeatedly needles Jackson about her Arizona State University degree. (In “Ted” he name drops Kierkegaard.)

The Supreme Court cases Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Brown v. Board of Education are cited in all seriousness. “Capable of love, aware of his own consciousness, seems pretty human to me,” Jackson argues to the jury, checking off criteria Ted satisfies.

Yet the authenticity of Ted’s alleged love is challenged when a Hasbro employee takes the stand: “I supervised the stuffing of the teddy bears.” Besides packing them with “synthetic cotton, poly blend,” Hasbro installs a device that plays a pre-recorded phrase whenever a child presses a spot near the toy’s heart. Ted is instructed to press his own chest. It emits a cute, if mechanical, “I love you.” The music here cues us that Ted’s soul is crushed and the case is lost.

“Ted is not a person,” decides the jury in Ted v. the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “The plaintiff is hereby legally deemed property,” the judge decrees.

Jackson plans an appeal if they can get “top civil rights attorney” Patrick Meighan (Morgan Freeman), who once “got a female midget into the Marines.” A road trip to his office in New York City is a disposable plot filler that at least establishes Ted is rightly denied a driver’s license. They go off the road and crash into the barn of a pot farm. Meighan, who does not smoke marijuana in this office, declines since Ted contributes nothing to society.

For another dumb plot turn, a Hasbro janitor (Giovanni Ribisi) with an unwholesome Ted obsession from the 2012 film conspires with his boss to steal and dissect Ted. The objective is monetizing the magic that made Ted sentient. “Hasbro would double its profits overnight,” he predicts. This leads to a ComicCon gathering of comic book hero fans in New York City.

Evading Hasbro evildoers, John risks his life to save Ted. The video of the heroics goes viral. Meighan reconsiders.

“What defines a person?” Meighan asks the court. “What defines property? What’s the difference?” Rather remarkably, Meighan invokes “the anthropologist and ethicist Dawn Prince-Hughes” and her view “that the standards for personhood include self-awareness, an ability to understand complex emotions, and the capacity for empathy.”

“As for complex emotions and the capacity for empathy, we all saw the distressing images of Ted agonizing over his fallen friend John Bennet,” continues Meighan. “In those images Ted exhibits all the remaining qualities of personhood.” He also brings in the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment.

The cited expert, t, is a Carbondale-native known for advocating personhood for great apes. Her 1987 memoir “Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism” supplies key phrases in Meighan’s courtroom speech. In the spirit of offending one and all, the screenplay includes a potent pot brand called “Here comes autism.”

Ted obsesses over popular culture, yet overlooks the 1987 episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) asks: “Am I a person or property?

Nor does the screenplay nod to “Bicentennial Man,” the 1999 film Chris Columbus directed based on Isaac Asimov’s 1976 story. Robin Williams plays a self-aware robot who wins– after two centuries of legal moves– the right to marry a non-robot and the right to die. MacFarlane supplies Ted with mean cracks about the late actor and comic.

“Ted 2” is insufficiently self-aware about its own humor. Although MacFarlane gets laughs, they never illuminate– unlike like his choice of legal rights issues. He is smarter than his characters and condescends to their taste in gags. What does John get in his face? Donor sperm and baby poop.

Almost transgressive is MacFarlane’s staging of a grand old-fashioned Irving Berlin musical number at the opening. Gents in tuxes and gals in gowns, with a CGI inset of Ted, are presented with irrelevant respect. The genre of vulgar comedy, however, is not advanced.

Almost transgressive is MacFarlane’s staging of a grand old-fashioned musical number at the opening with a full orchestra. Gents in tuxes and an Irving Berlin tune are presented with irrelevant respect. The genre of vulgar comedy, however, is not advanced. “Retarded,” as sentient Ted would say.

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