Directed by Adam McKay
Starring Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, David Koechner, Greg Kinnear
Following up a comedy classic like Anchorman is no easy task. In order to achieve a modicum of success, this sequel was already tasked with paying tribute to its predecessor while also setting itself far enough away so that it doesn’t seem like a play-by-play rehashing of the original. In this pursuit, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is a success. But while the first film had me in a constant state of stitches and continues to be a go-to favorite in the comedy stable, Anchorman 2 is far more spotted. Attempts to capture the comic vibrancy of men let off the leash fizzles with some performers more than others, revealing gags sautéed in randomness that come across as definitively hit-or-miss. And while more jokes land with a thud than you’d hope for, when it shines, it shines like the sweet diamond-crusted grills of Flava Flav.
As expected, the childlike, off-the-wall antics are still in place but can be a little more taxing this go around. Ron Burgandy’s out-of-thin air references are as arbitrary and improv-based as ever, but his laugh-o-meter far exceeds that of his fellow co-stars. In turning improv comedy into a massively consumed product that has withstood a decade of message-board scrawling and college frat party quoting, Will Ferrell has let the genie out of the bottle on what a comedy movie can be. It’s just too bad that not everyone on the cast has the same off-the-cuff zingers locked and loaded like he does.
The most derelict example of comedians being left too much to their own devices is Steve Carell‘s Brick Tamlan. In our first meeting with Brick, he was a strange creature of a man, too dumb for his own good and yet pure of heart. His role was small but bright, his appearance ushering a welcome break from the brashness of Burgundy and nudging a loving push to higher comic heights. Here, he features far more prominently and, for a majority of his bits, sucks the air right out of the room. With comedy that trumpets stupidity, made up of shouty non-sequiturs, Brick is also shoehorned into a romantic subplot with an equally air-headed Kristen Wiig, who manages to show Carrell up at his own game.
David Koechner‘s Champ Kind always fell to the bottom of the barrel when replaying the Anchorman highlight reel and yet his conservative-but-clearly-closeted persona feels even more second-rate this time around. His Sly-mouthed, bombastic tactics just aren’t funny. Whenever he’s onscreen, we’re just awaiting his exit.
On the other side of the spectrum, Paul Rudd‘s Brian Fantana still wins hearty laughs, showcasing an actor who has improved his droll craft over the years. But he’s given the least to do out of the four core members. His is the character we want to see more of and yet, he’s mostly left on the sidelines, snapping photos of kitties and shooting disappointed looks at Ron.
Considering the film represents itself as an ensemble rooted in the friendship of these four goofs, the big bang camaraderie between the news team that gave Anchorman such an affable state of suspended adolescence feels forced this time round; a crusty, hard kiwi that’s trying to pass as fresh fruit. But Anchorman never really depended on every part firing on all cylinders so long as it did on Ron Burgundy spouting quotable asides and running his mouth like a four-year old child.
Even beyond Burgundy, Ferrell refuses to color within the lines when it comes to his comedic style and it’s the reason why his jokes either soar or die on arrival. But his style is wholly unique and a relic that he has created. While nothing will live up to the cultural cornerstone that became of quotes like “Milk was a bad choice,” he’s still churning out guffaws like a man with an axe to grind. In his willingness to go anywhere, do anything, Ferrell may be past his prime, a fact demonstrated by his willingness to circle back to older, superior jokes, but he’s still one of the best funnymen around Hollywood.
Visual gags come out of left field and, with the exception of one or two bits, serve as highlights for the film. And, as you may expect, there’s no shortage of cameos – particularly in a scene that tips its hat to an unforgettable sequence in the first film. From Jim Carrey to Liam Neeson, Tina Fey and tag along Amy Poehler, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kirsten Dunst (although I’ll admit to not noticing her in this unholy cameo lineup of cameo lineups), Marion Cotillard, Will Smith, and even Kayne West, there’s so much going on that you’re helpless but to laugh.
One thing that does set Anchorman 2 above some other comedies that don’t dare touch ethical ground, Adam McKay and Co. try to spin a message out of the comedy. His target: 24-hour news coverage. He’s right on the money decrying the crumbled state of what passes as news nowadays, having Burgundy cover car chases, spout gossip, and show reels of cute puppies ambling around American flags. “Give them what they want to hear,” Burgundy postulates, “tell them America is the greatest country in the world.” As such GNN, the first-of-its-kind 24-hour news station featured in the film, is a clear knock at FOX News’ door. And though the commentary is appreciated, it’s on-the-nose approach is maybe the kick in the butt some viewers need but it pales compared to what The Newsroom accomplishes.
Without reaching the same highs, Anchorman 2 still provides us with a good belly full of laughs. We can hope that McKay and Ferrell’s goal here is to provide another mainstay in the comedy community, to let a comic hero breathe life again, but obviously there are monetary intents here. Hoping to capitalize on the goodwill that Anchorman has harnessed and fostered since 2004, Anchorman 2 is no monstrosity but it won’t garnish the same fawning the original inspired, and for good reason. It is poised however to be a box-office behemoth in this crowded Christmas season. But from the ashes, there is one man who the entire success of this endeavor rests on and he’s trying his damnedest to bring it all together. With those two fuzzy caterpillars resting over the black eyes of a raven, Ferrell has become a parody of even himself. Thank God the man knows how to parody.