26 June 2015

Road to a Blockbuster: TED 2 Shits on the World

The clock has once again struck Friday, and considering that weekend real estate is a precious commodity in the Summer months, we've got another big flick premiere on our hands. It's time to assess the critical, commercial, and most importantly, the cultural potential of this weekend's releases. Big budgeted, high profile blockbusters by their nature have a lot more weight to throw around than any other film, and even though we're also seeing Max (2015), which is about some retarded dog or something, if it doesn't have a "Mad" in front of it, I'm not totally interested. So we're talking TED 2 (2015).

Comedic sequels are difficult for every Waynes World 2 (1993) or Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), there's a Caddyshack II (1988) or Evan Almighty (2007). That's really just the tip of the terrible comedy sequel iceberg. That iceberg goes really, really deep. It destroyed the Titanic! And that's an even more suitable metaphor by the fact that it's not funny at all.

Why do comedy sequels suck so much? It's probably because they lack that critical impulse of surprise that the first one pulls off. The sequels I named above came pretty close to matching their predecessor, mostly from taking their great characters and sticking them in slightly different, but still believable (for the characters...) situations. I still call Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) one of the rare sequels that actually improved upon its original material, but I'll also recognize that I'm virtually alone in that assertion. On the other end of the long-range sequel is Dumb and Dumber To (2014), which I harshly criticized for doing the exact same shit as the first movie, which spat in the face of how well Anchorman 2 handled itself.
I do love how this joke turned into a
well-balanced, rewarding marriage.

TED 2 is of course an entirely different animal (a bear!) because it's coming out relatively quickly after its predecessor, TED (2012). TED was really notable as Seth MacFarlane's first foray into live action writing and directing after basing the majority of his career making terrible, terrible cartoon shows. TED was also hilarious - in a completely uncompromising, terrible, "Hey Norah Jones, thanks for 9/11" sort of way. It had a confidence and fearlessness that is lacking in plenty of comedy these days that's more comfortable getting a quick laugh from a reference or complacent silliness than anything edgy.

Of course, there's difference between crass shock humour for the sake of being shocking and something that's actually satirical or says something interesting about its topic. TED is also full of consumer comedy, which often blends in horribly with its shock humour, resulting, for example, in creating a pretty awful Asian stereotype for sake of completing a Flash Gordon (1980) reference. It's an odd film but a pretty successful debut for MacFarlane by all means. It made a ton of money, was liked by critics...as much as they were ever going to, and was pretty damn funny.

In the years since MacFarlane churned out A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014), which was much of the same brand of half-reference/half-shock comedy, wrapped in a Western shell which was all kind of weird, but not nearly as awful as most people thought. In the past year it's been outgrossed by Horrible Bosses 2 (2014), Dumb and Dumber To, The Wedding Ringer (2015), Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015), and even Let's Be Cops (2014), which doubled its domestic gross. And if you're thinking "Damn, I forgot about that movie," or even "I've never heard of that movie!" rest assured, that's the point. A Million Ways came and went with the legit threat to put an end to MacFarlane's career. It'd be different if it were just a terrible movie that bombed, but it was a terribly offensive movie that no one liked. I mean, I don't have a problem with a film being offensive, but there has to be some redeemableness, sympathy, or satire there for the offense to work. A Million Ways just kind of offends and then smiles hoping you'll get it.

This would again be acceptable if it were funny. It's biggest showpieces just don't land with the unprecedented hilarity they need to to keep the film's steam up. Now, I've shit all over this, and I said earlier that it doesn't deserve its reputation, and hopefully this explains a little bit why it gained that awful reputation. I'll just say that it isn't any worse a comedy than Horrible Bosses (2011) or We're the Millers (2013) or any other forgettable comedy that's done well. It just bombed critically and commercially because of little ways it pushed things over the edge.

To be fair, no one is ever doing this with E.J. Manuel.
TED 2 is really MacFarlane's last hope. It's back in his wheelhouse - trusted material he kicked ass with before along with making a ton of money. By all means fucking this up would be a disaster. I don't know why I'm still cheering for him, actually. I hate Family Guy and pretty much everything else he's done. I did love his Oscar hosting, because that room needs its balls busted. And I do love his fearlessness. I guess I just wished he could craft a better joke or outlet that strayed farther from consumer and more into character. I mean, he has good characters! And he crafts good stories! We know you can write, Seth, why do you just go the lazy way out all the time?

Critics have already savaged TED 2, but who cares. Culturally, I can see this adding to the mythos of the first film, but not really branching out on its own, although at first glance it would appear to be striking out on its own rather than re-hashing the same shit. I'm also curious whether or not that hyped up Tom Brady cameo falls on its face in the wake of Deflategate. Nah, to New Englanders it doesn't matter. He still has glowing junk. Commercially it's hard to say. We've been kind of starved for good R-rated comedies this year, and there's nothing really in its way for a while, so it ought do do well. That is, if it can actually escape the rather large shadows of Jurassic World (2015) and Inside Out  (2015), the latter of which has had some of the best word of mouth of the year. You know, those crowds may not be too similar.

What do you think? Seeing TED 2 this weekend? Or time for another crying sesh with Inside Out? Leave one below!

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