Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, drug use, language, and comic violence
Running Time: 119 min.
Cast: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Meagan Good, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Dylan Baker, Josh Lawson, Judah Nelson, Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Dylan Baker, Greg Kinnear, Harrison Ford, June Diane Raphael
Cameo: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Liam Neeson, Kirsten Dunst, Vince Vaughn, Sacha Baron Cohen, John C, Reilly, Kanye West, Fred Willard, Marion Cotillard, Chris Parnell, Drake
Director: Adam McKay
Screenplay: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Review published December 19, 2013
Sequels to comedies are a rare, tricky business, especially of cult films that have been watched and re-watched by many over the years. I could probably count on one hand the number of comedy sequels that I enjoyed as much as their predecessors (A Shot in the Dark, Shrek 2 and Toy Story 2 are three that come to mind, but I'm struggling mightily to come up with others), which goes to show just how difficult it is to recreate a rare chemistry among a cast and crew, and also try to make it just as funny without covering the same ground. Particularly difficult is trying to recreate the sense of sheer scattershot absurdity that makes the original Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, such a hilarious film for many viewers. Is it really possible to not only recreate the same farcical momentum among a cast and crew who threw everything but the kitchen sink up at the screen in order to evoke laughs, but do it ten years later? If Anchorman 2 is the example, the answer is a definitive "no."
It is especially true because the original Anchorman is a storyline that doesn't need a sequel. One got the feeling after watching the exuberant ninety-minute comedy on display that these guys and gals gave everything they had until they could give no more just to evoke mirth in its viewers (rumor has it the original cut ran about 5 hours, the deleted scenes of which were used to make its own semi-movie video release, Wake Up, Ron Burgundy.) While the oft-quotable Anchorman has garnered a cult following over the years for some good belly laughs, it's also one of those films that is better in one's recollection than when actually viewing.
In Anchorman 2, we pick up a few years later to 1980 (its adherence to this year is very squishy), just on the cusp of cable programming taking off, and specifically, a national news channel called GNN (Global News Network) owned by an Aussie billionaire (a Ted Turner/Rupert Murdoch visionary-type with Richard Branson's looks and personality), played by Josh Lawson (The Campaign, Crave). Ron Burgundy (Ferrell, Casa de mi Padre) has recently been fired from his network-anchor-in-waiting position in San Diego in favor of his wife, Veronica Corningstone (Applegate, Hall Pass), which effectively separates the competitive couple, perhaps for good. Burgundy is working (poorly) as an emcee at SeaWorld when he is contacted by the producers at GNN to get his talent on board for the network's graveyard shift (much is made about the undesirable 2am slot, but when you're a "global news network", of what use are time zones, really?). Ron gets his old team -- weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell, The Way Way Back), sportscaster Champ Kind (Koechner, A Haunted House), and news reporter Brian Fantana (Rudd, Prince Avalanche) -- and aims to one-up the channel's hot-shot prime-time anchor Jack Lime (Marsden, The Butler) to be the biggest sensation in news.
Here is a case of the creative minds making the mistake of trying far too hard to force things that should come naturally. Writers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Talladega Nights), who star and direct this film, respectively, try for bigger, broader, and better laughs, and do so without establishing its characters or situations first in order for the comedic situations to springboard off of. In the meantime, gags that are DOA get repeated incessantly, as if they will get funnier if the actors continue to point out they are making a funny. In one example, Ron Burgundy can't get over that his new boss (Good, The Love Guru) is an African-American (a term didn't catch hold until later in the decade, one of the film's many soft anachronisms in verbiage), which he demonstrates through his inability to stop saying the word "black" in her presence. They engage in a rivalry that, on a dime, turns into a kinda-sorta romance (that it would ever get to "meet the parents" level in such a short time seems insincere), but outside of Burgundy's inability to keep foot from going in mouth for his racist attitudes, there's no gold at all to be mined from the subplot.
Story beats are tossed in and then largely ignored. James Marsden's Jack Lime character is introduced early as Burgundy's main nemesis, but once the comedic angle of their rivalry is wringed out for all of its juice (which doesn't take long), his character is nearly written out of the film's second half altogether. Even Ron's attempt at a reconciliation with his family seems to be bubbling under the film just waiting to be implemented as a sort of happy ending potential. The best thread in the film comes from the satirical commentary on today's news, in which "real news" takes a back seat to glorified sensationalism (i.e., media outlets no longer tell people things they need to hear vs. telling them what they want to hear). An important interview with Yasser Arafat is pre-empted in favor of a random highway chase of nearly unknown origin, in one example, while Ron continues to tout America as the greatest nation on Earth (echoes of Fox News), and frequent cuts to stories involving cute kittens and puppies. Sadly, as the McKay and Ferrell seek only to make audiences laugh, such choice skewering feels more like an afterthought than the main thrust it should have been.
Along with the sheer amount of inanity that is thrown up on the screen in the hope that something will stick, Anchorman 2 is all about trotting out celebrity cameos on the notion that constant audience titillation is what is required to keep us engaged. Such celebs as Harrison Ford (Ender's Game) seem out of place to begin with, but the film jams most of them in at the very end, in a forced (and very unfunny) climax that sees Burgundy and his crew in some sort of 'battle royale' against a plethora of other news crews (a more violent, less inspired rehash of the one in the first film), each headed by another big-name star like Jim Carrey, Will Smith, Kanye West and others. Just before this side show, we are treated to a silly-in-theory subplot involving the rehabilitation of a shark, which just becomes a misguided punch line to the movie later. 2004's Anchorman was a devil-may-care experience; 2013's sequel labors mightily to get every laugh it ekes out.
Comedy is also something that, like any other art form, loses its potency over time, especially as imitators assimilate styles into their own comedy. Comedians who could once do no wrong eventually struggle to get the same laughs, as their comedic styles that were once cutting edge now seem stale (the films of Mel Brooks come to mind). Unfortunately, as these thespians have entered middle age, and over 15 years on the scene, their ability to stay on the cutting edge has long since dissipated. Mostly, like Adam Sandler and his cronies, they are playing to the fan base that are still large and loyal, but dwindling as time goes on as well.
Anchorman 2 isn't without a few decent laughs, but the hit-to-miss ratio is astonishingly low for a film that contains this much talent on display. It certainly will disappoint anyone expecting even half of the laughs of its predecessor, and will be one major headache to those who weren't particularly impressed with the 2004 film. There really is not enough story here to fill a two-hour run time, so when the gags fizzle far more often than they sizzle, fatigue for the film weighs in early. The best we can do in between the comedic moments that actually connect is to enjoy the soundtrack of early 1980s hits that populate much of the film's run time.
If Wake Up, Ron Burgundy is the one made out of Anchorman's deleted scenes, Anchorman 2 is the one reluctantly slapped together out of ideas too weak for them to have originally shot to film in the first place.
--- An unimportant scene follows the end credits.
©2013 Vince Leo