Film Reviews

Film Review: Anchorman 2 Hits All the Familiar Beats to Funny But Diminished Returns

Possibly signaling that a weary nation is about to be put out of its misery and no longer forced to see Ron Burgundy in ever TV commercial and on every billboard poster, the long since advertised Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues has finally arrived.  It’s been a long 9 years since the original Anchorman.  Was it worth the wait?

THE PLOT [THE BASIC PLOT & SET-UP WITH NO MAJOR SPOILERS]

You remember how the original Anchorman actually ends with a montage in which Bill Kurtis’ narration informs us exactly what became of all the major characters after the events of the movie?  Remember – Champ (David Koechner) becomes a commentator for the NFL before being fired for sexually harassing Terry Bradshaw, Brian (Paul Rudd) becomes a host of a reality show, Brick (Steve Carell) has 11 kids and is in the Bush White House, and Ron (Will Ferrell) and Veronica (Christina Applegate) become the first national co-ed news team.  Yeah, not surprisingly, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues ignores pretty much all of that except for the last part about Ron and Veronica.

At the start of the film, we have left the 1970s era of the first film for the early 1980s.  Ron and Veronica are now married with a grade-school-aged young son, Walter (Judah Nelson).  They are indeed a national co-ed news team in New York, but Ron isn’t cutting it whereas Veronica is excelling.  He gets fired, she promoted.  As a result of Ron’s insecurity, this turn of events ends their relationship.  Having hit rock bottom, Ron is offered a chance at redemption in the form of an anchor position for the first 24-hour news channel (it’s clearly supposed to be CNN, but it’s called GNN in the movie).  He re-assembles his news team – Champ, Brian, Brick – each of whom had actually left the news anchor business since the last movie.  Once at GNN, they forge a rivalry with the network’s all-star news team led by the impossibly gorgeous Jack Lime (James Marsden), and have to deal with the fact that their boss is not just a woman but a young, gorgeous, African-American woman (Meagan Good).

THE REVIEW

Let’s start with the obvious: Anchorman 2 is not as funny as Anchorman.  It was never going to be, especially with such a long gap in-between the films.  That bizarre alchemy some comedies find of just right the cast at just the right time is always hard to organically recreate in a sequel.  Beyond that, Anchorman was a film defined by its unexpected flights of fancy.  However, now that we’ve seen director Adam McKay and co-screenwriter Will Ferrell are the types who will interrupt the plot for a hilarious but entirely superfluous West Side Story-style rumble between news anchors the surprise is kind of gone for the sequel.  In fact, we expect it from them now.

However, it’s not just the zany fight scene or the characters breaking out into an impromptu acapella rendition of “Afternoon Delight” that gives Anchorman its comedic power nor is it a collection of actors all on the creative rise.  Anchorman actually derives its comedy from a mixture of absurdist elements (“I killed a guy with a trident!”), and the fun to be had from watching how cartoon character-like representations of 1970s male machismo react to the presence of a new women’s liberation-esque female co-worker (Christina Applegate).  It’s like Man Men a decade later – if the ad executives from Sterling-Cooper-whatever-the-hell–they’re-calling-it-now randomly had a street brawl with ad execs from other agencies.

The sexism of the original largely works because the true joke was on the guys, as their intolerance eventually revealed them to simply be on the wrong side of history on the issue.  Plus, Christina Applegate’s character had enough screen time to give us someone who has to react to workplace gender oppression and eventually rise above it.  Notably, at one point she even gets her own voice-over sequence in which she informs the audience of the steady hand she’s had to display in her career in the face of endless sexism.  More importantly, she gives back just as good as she gets, consistently using her superior wit and intellect to undercut every attack lobbed at her.

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The first Anchorman would not have worked if Christina Applegate hadn’t been so good as Veronica

The sequel, Anchorman 2, sadly sidelines Applegate except for the book-ending opening and closing portions of the film.  Her banter with Ron is just as hilarious ever, but McKay and Ferrell’s script has shifted away from the sexism of the original to racism and the 24-hours news  explosion as the linking pieces of its plot for the sequel.  If the prospect of Ron being so overwhelmed by the site of his new African-American boss Linda Jackson (Meagan Good) that he can’t stop saying the word, “Black!” sounds funny to you then this is the story line for you.  There’s more consistent humor to be had from Ron’s eventual romantic relationship with the rather aggressive Linda, but a dinner scene with Linda’s family is mostly an excuse for Ron to behave like a racist but we’re supposed to laugh because he’s such an ultimately clueless and toothless character.  It falls completely flat this time around, although the racism-is-funny angle does not really extend beyond Ron’s first meeting with Linda and dinner with her parents.

Christina Applegate Will Ferrell Meagan Good
Ron’s worst nightmare and secret fantasy – the ex (Applegate on left) meeting the new girl (Good on right)

The true backbone of this plot is an exploration of the 24-hour news cycle, and this, sadly, is something the film would have benefited from exploring with more frequency beyond a couple of montages.  The idea of Ron and his cartoon-character sidekicks being unwittingly behind the transition from hard-hitting, broadcast news to news infotainment  is clever and often hilarious.  Of course, Brick (Carell) would be totally fine with being sent out on the street to report the weather during horrific weather-conditions, like an early version of The Weather Channel.  However, we could have seen way more of that.  Of course, Champ would just reduce sports highlights to Sportscenter-like montages of home runs and touchdowns with silly catch phrases.  Of course, Brian would delve into such hard-hitting, multi-piece journalism as the top 10 vaginas in history.  And of course Ron would love high-speed car chases.

However, while there is some slight, obvious commentary on the negative effects of news infotainment and corporate corruption of the news by Rupert Murdoch-types Anchorman 2 has to ultimately make time to form a plot which manages to give us new versions of our favorite scenes from the first film.  So, Brian Fantana’s cabinet of curious colognes is back with a new wrinkle, there is bizarre musical moment, and there is a funny love-making scene filled with hilarious, era-specific imagery.  And, yes, there is a super-sized, cameo-filled fight scene with other news anchors, that though bigger is most definitely not better.

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Rudd, Ferrell, Koechner, and Carell in a photo from a scene of Anchorman 2 that I do not recall actually seeing in the movie.

Will Ferrell has had an up-and-down career since Anchorman, but he is forever inspired as Ron Burgundy.  He is arguably at his best in Anchorman 2 when Ron is actually played as the straight man, with hilariously accurate verbal observations of the insanity around him when Brian says something sexist, Brick something stupid, and Linda kind of sexually harasses him.  When he is pitched at a more cartoon-like level or reduced to signature Will Ferrell man-child screaming it’s more hit and miss.  His returning co-stars, Paul Rudd and David Koechner, get surprisingly little to do.  Rudd is used to sort of wink at the implied sincerity of certain plot points, as if to signal to the audience, “You don’t really think we’re taking this seriously, do you?”  Koechner has even less to do, mostly because they already played their comedy card with him – a sports commentator who is secretly gay and doesn’t know anything about sports.  We mostly get more of that, although Ferrell’s increasingly annoyed facial expression every time Koechner’s hug last a little too long is consistently funny.

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Carell romancing Wiig, who basically plays one of her stock SNL character types

That leads us to Steve Carell, who gets more screen this time around but not for the better.  There is a truth to the extreme exaggeration of Carell’s Brick in the original Anchorman – which is that weathermen are professional guessers who are wrong so often many of us probably assume they don’t know what they’re doing.  So, there was humor to be had from the idea that Brick was in fact mentally retarded but no one seemed to notice because what else do you expect from a weatherman (apologies to all weathermen and/or women).  It’s a one-note gag, of course, which is perfectly fine for a supporting character but is not enough to carry the character through his own story line.  As such, his bizarre courtship of the equally bizarre Kristin Wiig is only really funny if Brick having some sort of fit when his woman is threatened sounds funny to you.  Unfortunately, even when not off on his storyline with Wiig Carell is an enhanced presence in the ensemble scenes with the news team, using Brick to make far more loud and extended noises this time instead of simply yelling, “Loud noises!” as he did the first movie.  It annoys more than it amuses.

None of the new actors embarrass nor distinguish themselves.  James Marsden is fun as the villainous Jack Lime, but Marsden has been far funnier elsewhere (30 Rock, Enchanted, Modern Family).  Meagan Good does her best version of a Pamela Grier-type as Linda Jackson, and grabs a couple of laughs.  Harrison Ford’s “please love me again” tour continues in a cameo as Veronica and Ron’s creepy boss, and Ford is game enough to play weird and let Ferrell get the laughs as the person commenting on how weird he’s being.  Greg Kinnear is perfectly fine as a liberal, sensitive psychologist who romances Veronica.  How Did This Get Made listeners will delight to see June Diane Raphael show up in a couple of scenes with Wiig and Carell.

Adam McKay’s direction is just as competent as it was in Anchorman , with his highlight probably being a slow-motion car crash near the beginning.  His handling of the news anchor rumble this time around is somewhat boringly staged, with no great visual flair or accompanying soundtrack calling to mind an odd mixture of West Side Story and Planet of the Apes.  McKay’s script with Ferrell crams arguably too much into the film’s 119 minute running time, such as the barely realized relationship between Ron and his son.  However, the film never particularly drags, keeping up a good pacing.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Anchorman 2 is exactly the Anchorman sequel you’d expect – uneven, loosely structured, not nearly as funny.  It recreates many of the best moments of the original to diminished returns.  However, when it is unburdened by mimicry of what came before but truly doing something new, such as everything involving the 24-hour news station, it is quite often hilarious.  More of its humor falls flat this time around, like everything to do with Brick, but the jokes and comedy bits hit often enough to make for a fairly entertaining comedy that won’t likely gain new fans but certainly please the old ones.

THE TRAILER

What did you think?  Like it?  Hate it?  Let us know in the comments section.

2 comments

  1. Good review Kelly. While it’s not as near-perfect as the first, it’s still funny when you want it to be. Not drop-dead hilarious, but still worth a couple of laughs here and there.

    1. That about sums it up. I didn’t love the movie, but it’s a couple of days later and I’m still laughing a little at some of the jokes. So, it’s not without its charm.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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