"Ted 2" asks a question that we never needed, or particularly wanted, to know the answer to: Is Ted, the magical, foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear, a person in the eyes of the law?
While it's unfair to judge a comedy simply for a ridiculous premise, here, it also happens to be the unlikely killer of the overstuffed "Ted 2." And resolution does not come quickly enough in this nearly two-hour rumination on civil rights and abject stupidity.
Part of the charm of "Ted," writer-director Seth MacFarlane's better-than-it-should-have-been story of a grown man and his sentient stuffed animal, was how unaffectedly it treated its talking teddy. Ted just is. No one thinks too hard about the why of it. Combining that silly foundation with Mark Wahlberg's endearingly dopey intensity was a stroke of brilliance. The movie was allowed to only be about their friendship, and it worked.
Making a sequel to an original comedy is always a tough game, though. More often than not, the desire to please fans and recreate the magic of the first produces nothing more than an exaggerated rehash.
In an admirable effort to go a different route, MacFarlane has instead done something hopelessly bizarre: He's given his film too much sincerity and story, and it practically crushes whatever fun does exist.
This time, we meet up with Ted (voiced again by MacFarlane) at his wedding to fellow grocery store clerk and gum-smacking bombshell Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). Their newlywed bliss soon curdles and they decide to have a baby to save the marriage.
Because the natural way of going about this business is not an option (for a few reasons), Tami-Lynn and Ted decide to try adoption. It's then that a state authority asks whether or not a stuffed animal should be afforded the rights of a human.
And very quickly after that, Ted loses his job, his marriage is invalidated, and audiences are forced to endure a horrifying thing: a whiny, self-righteous Ted.
So, best friend John (Wahlberg), now a sad-sack divorcee, and Ted hook up with Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), a newbie law associate who's willing to take their case pro bono, and a few montages later, they're off fighting the good fight in excruciating detail.
Seriously, there are almost interesting debates over Ted's humanity and a few fairly earnest references to the 13th Amendment and Dred Scott. It's a wonder "Ted 2" didn't venture into artificial intelligence territory.
Still, it's very rare for a MacFarlane venture to be completely unfunny. Even "A Million Ways to Die in the West" had moments. The highlights in "Ted 2" are almost worth it. There's a Busby Berkeley-style opening number, a fantastic Liam Neeson cameo, a riff on what the F stands for in F. Scott Fitzgerald, a "Jurassic Park" bit and a few others.
There's even an over-the-top fight at New York Comic-Con (with more than a few "Transformers" peppering in the background, though it's unclear whether that's poking fun at Wahlberg's association with the franchise or promoting it).The sequence had some promise in spite of the vitriol fueling the joke, but it's all too late.
MacFarlane continues to be a unique and probably misunderstood artist in popular culture. His venomous humor, basic moral code, crass sensibilities and fondness for classic showmanship are, at the very least, an interesting combination for a modern entertainer. But they haven't quite meshed yet, at least on film.
The misadventures of a couple of crass knuckleheads should be simple fun, and it's quite all right to try for a more substantive story in something so trivial. But the silliness of the first has ceded to something that's also a little more hateful and bitter.
Ted and John should've stayed on the couch and out of the courtroom.
"Ted 2," a Universal Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use." Running time: 115 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr