If there's anything surprising about "Ted 2," Seth MacFarlane's weak follow-up to his hit comedy "Ted," it's this: a series of forceful arguments on behalf of civil rights. In this story, the animated Bostonian teddy bear named Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) cannot legally marry Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), the gum-snapping checkout girl he met in the previous film. In the state of Massachusetts, Ted is not a "person" but merely "property."
"When the law devalues one kind of life," says Amanda Seyfried as Ted's lawyer, Samantha, "how soon before it devalues another?"
That's one of the movie's many lines comparing Ted to both blacks and gays, although "Ted 2" is sensitive enough not to overplay the analogy. ("That's just like me!" Ted shouts while watching "Roots.") Is this the same MacFarlane whose 2013 Oscar monologue was panned as sexist, homophobic and racist? Has the leading light of frat-boy comedy turned over a new leaf?
Nope. Despite all the speechifying, "Ted 2" is one of the most consistently and chronically racist movies in years. Its repeated jokes about black men are so prurient, so phobic, that it feels almost antebellum. This is the kind of comedy in which a savage black judge can be soothed by soul music -- and that's one of the less offensive jokes. You have to wonder whether Morgan Freeman, who briefly plays a civil rights lawyer, read the full script.
Even at its best, "Ted 2," directed and co-written by MacFarlane, is a spotty comedy. Mark Wahlberg, as Ted's lifelong pal Johnny, serves little purpose here and has zero chemistry with Seyfried (utterly miscast as a bong-toking millennial). When MacFarlane's better angels take over, "Ted 2" can feel almost sweet. (The music, by composer Walter Murphy and MacFarlane, is a rather lovely blend of Burt Bacharach and 1920s pop). But even the non-racist humor (using comic-book geeks as reliable punching bags) feels spiteful. Giovanni Ribisi, as the mentally unbalanced villain Donny, once again strikes an oddly queasy note.
If "Ted 2" were simply a blindly racist comedy, it might almost earn a pass. By paying lip service to tolerance, however, MacFarlane shows that he knows better. Somehow, that seems worse.