Synopsis: With the 70s behind him, San Diego’s top rated newsman, Ron Burgundy, returns to take New York’s first 24-hour news channel by storm.
If ever there were a comedy since Airplane that needed a sequel less it was Anchorman. And yet, here we are.
Comedy is at it’s best when you don’t expect it. When the punchline takes you by surprise. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy (2004) worked so brilliantly because of this very fact. No expectation and no fanfare left a void of anticipation that was filled with a cavalcade of quotable lines, memes and parodies, all of which made a stone cold star out of Will Ferrell and his supporting improv cast members. Off the back of word of mouth and strong reviews it took nearly 10 times it’s budget at the US box office alone, not to mention a buttload of DVD sales, making it a bona fide hit.
Most importantly it was very, very, very funny and infectiously quotable.
The issue with Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is that all of the ingredients that made the first such a stone cold classic aren’t there, either through circumstance or laziness. It is, alas, just quite funny. All to often the jokes feel forced, the one liners seem to be stretching for that “repeatable” quality. You can almost feel the actors pausing and waiting to see how many college kids have tweeted their punchlines. It’s the cinematic equivalent of that awkward moment when someone tells an unexpectedly funny joke, and then through a desperate attempt to remain the center of attention, riding high on a wave of adulation and adrenaline, tries to strike gold twice before overstretching and just making everyone in the room feel awkward.
In short; it tries too hard. It was just…..funny. And in the legacy of Anchorman, just funny isn’t enough.
Where Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy dealt with the issues of sexism and misogny in the workplace, Anchorman 2 tackles the topic of 24 hour news cycles and the conversion of news from information to entertainment. Obviously when I say “tackles” I mean, it had to be about something otherwise it would just be a 2 hour sketch comedy. Set a number of years after Ron and Victoria Corningstone’s coming together, the two have relocated to New York to deliver hard facts as a powerhouse network news team. However when Victoria is promoted to the first female primetime news anchor Ron finds himself on the wrong end of a pink slip. A man with no portfolio. An anchor with no news. His only hope comes in the form of an offer from the newly formed, pioneering 24 hour news network GNN (transparent reference ahoy) to get the old team together. The problem? They’re all off pursuing new careers and so it is up to Ron to round them up and convince them to join him in recapturing their former glory.
Once back in New York with his Channel 6 Team; Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell), they must overcome their new and unusual position at the bottom of the network food chain through creative news stories. Burgundy is a man on a mission. To win back the hearts of the nation and the love of his ex-wife. Standing in his way? Young buck news anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) and his new boss Linda Jackson, a strong and, apparently only for the purposes of some uncomfortably misjudged and outdated comedy, black. It is in this latter point that Anchorman 2 felt it’s laziest. All too often the jokes veered to the borderline of being offensive in a way that seemed at best misjugded and at worst deparate. They even appear to have recycled a classic Austin Powers joke from 15 years ago and just made it racially uncomfortable. Which would be fine if it was an occasional nod to Ron’s lack of tact, but it too often becomes a long running joke seemingly in place of anything more original. Which is only topped for cringeworthy by a horrible dinner scene which feels like a cross between Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor and some terrible 70’s sitcom.
When it fires on all cylinders though there is still enough of the original magic to keep it the right side of a 2 star review. The satirising of 24 hour news coverage, something that seems to be worse now than ever, and corporate conflicts of interest, is largely handled well providing the biggest laughs. The team spitballing ideas for entertaining news stories, Brick getting to grips with green screen technology and Champ nearly passing out from saying WHAMMY too many times in succession after the decision to only show home runs. It was also a wise decision in light of his A list status to expand Carrell’s role as Brick, the most consistently funny character mainly because he is the only one with any remaining innocence.
Unfortunately as it moves in to it’s last 40 minutes it loses it’s way again and is in dire need of some harsh editing. A side story involving Ron raising a baby shark and regaining his humility through an unforseen accident moves to far to the surreal end of Anchorman’s comedy spectrum to be truly funny. And the inevitable glut of cameos that adorn the last 15 minutes cynically feels like nothing more than a vain attempt to keep the audiences attention long after the credits should have rolled. There is also a personal feeling that I have about Will Ferrell’s brand of schtick that undoubtedly played a part in my enjoyment of Anchorman 2. I used to love him and everything he did. Up until a few years ago when his shouty improv comedy became stale and increasingly less funny. I haven’t been to see a Ferrell movie at the cinema in years, yet I almost always watch them on DVD or streaming just in case there is a gem in there. It’s becoming less and less the case that there are. And in 2013 I think my tolerance for his delivery has reached a point where the comedy was to often dulled by my irritation.
Ultimately my enjoyment for Anchorman 2 is probably just where I expected it to be. The optimist in me wanted it to be as magical comic experience as the first one. The realist in me though has had enough experience with movies to know that sequels, particularly comedies, rarely live up to their originals. There were just enough laughs that if this were any other comedy movie I would have probably given it a slightly easier ride. But when you’re playing with a classic you need to expect the standard for exceeding my expectations will always be higher.
Conclusion: The inevitably disappointing follow up to a comedy that was always going to be impossible to replicate or exceed. Enough laughs to make it a worthwhile trip, but too many of those laughs came out of feeling awkward by what was going on rather than well written comedy. And the worst thing is that for the follow up to one of the most quotable comedies of all time, I left not being able to remember much of what was said.
Cast: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carrell, Dylan Baker, Meagan Good, James Marsden, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig