Great Odin's Raven! Will Ferrell's cheerfully idiotic Ron Burgundy and Christina Applegate's whip-smart Veronica Corningstone are back for a comedy sequel that critic Ian Buckwalter says is essentially an avalanche of one-liners. Gemma LaMana/Paramount Pictures hide caption
Great Odin's Raven! Will Ferrell's cheerfully idiotic Ron Burgundy and Christina Applegate's whip-smart Veronica Corningstone are back for a comedy sequel that critic Ian Buckwalter says is essentially an avalanche of one-liners.Gemma LaMana/Paramount Pictures
Make no mistake, Ron Burgundy is a terrible human being. In 2004's Anchorman, it's true, he learned a lesson (sort of) about the dangers of his overinflated ego and the lies of his culturally inherited misogyny. But everything came out OK in the end, and he ended things as a semi-likable rogue — casually misogynist, lackadaisically racist, generically insensitive and oblivious, but still a guy who loves his dog, his lady and his Scotch, and who isn't afraid to cry.
But Anchorman didn't go from modest box-office success to quotable cult hit because of Burgundy's redemption. He has become Will Ferrell's most enduring comic creation because he's the kind of egocentric buffoon who declares himself "kind of a big deal" and surrounds himself with sycophantic yes men who are as horrible as he is — or too dumb to know the difference. If laughing at these idiots — not with them, and that's both a fine line and an important distinction in the success of Anchorman — can provide an outlet for the frustration of not being able to call out their real-life equivalents, then the sequel should be worth the admission price in therapeutic value alone.
Comedy sequels sometimes feel like cash-ins, but coming nine years after its predecessor, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues isn't exactly riding the wave of the first film's success. This feels more like the end result of years of freestyling; I'm imagining Ferrell and collaborator Adam McKay coming up with random Burgundy bits at parties all these years and needing a place to put them.
That could serve as the recipe for a sprawling, unfocused mess of disconnected jokes, and sometimes the sequel does flirt with disaster. (Among other things, it's about 15 minutes too long.) But Ferrell and McKay have devised the perfect frame to explain why so many self-centered, ratings-obsessed, fame-hungry news professionals might all find themselves in the same place again — the perfect plot hook to give them an even bigger stage to let their lunacy reign. Ron Burgundy, you see, accidentally invents 24-hour television news as we now know it.
It's 1980, and after yet another professional setback, Burgundy gets hired to anchor the night shift at the fledgling GNN, a brand-new network that's about to launch with nothing but news. So he gets the old team back together: playboy reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), good-old-boy sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), the weatherman one might be inclined to describe as a man-child, if that weren't so offensive to children.
GNN is obviously meant to suggest CNN, which launched that year in the real world, but Ferrell and McKay are equal-opportunity satirists, and the station's owner (Josh Lawson) is clearly a composite of Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson, so News Corp. and media consolidation come in for their share of abuse.
This isn't subtle lampooning. Skepticism about the news "innovations" that Burgundy happens upon — endless on-screen graphics, meaningless police-chase coverage, padding a live show with irresponsible speculation, the notion that everything is "breaking" news — is nothing new, and Ferrell and McKay make no effort to bury the satire within the story's subtext.
Actually, there isn't any subtext, and story isn't really a primary concern. Even the satirical jabs are secondary; Anchorman 2 is little more than a two-hour joke-delivery system, with practically every line designed to play as a punch line.
It's impossible for all of them to work, but the sheer volume of material, delivered by a cast dedicated to the absolute absurdity of the setups — Fantana's new career as a kitten photographer, Kind's side business running a fast-food chain with a specialty in fried bat, Burgundy nursing and training a live shark while blind and living in a lighthouse — is a kind of comedy carpet-bombing. All it takes is a certain percentage of hits for things to detonate.
The nonsense hits redline by the end, in a return to the news-team gang fight that served as the first film's lunatic centerpiece — only this iteration makes the earlier one seem sedate in comparison, with an avalanche of cameos and an anything-goes air. It feels like a scene devised by a gang of hyperactive 5-year-olds playing make-believe while hopped up on Pixy Stix and soda. Time will tell if this film is as quotable as its predecessor, but for now, Anchorman 2 coasts along quite successfully on sheer manic eccentricity.
Here’s a thought. What would you have said if, eight years ago, somebody told you that the world would – at Christmas, no less – grind to a halt for a sequel to The Stepford Wives or (wrack your brains) Ladder 49. You’d phone for the chaps with the butterfly nets. Right? Yet both those films made more at the 2004 box office than Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
The bald figures do, however, conceal certain truths. Concerned with a very American phenomenon – the growth of 1970s big-hair journalism in Southern California – Anchorman was barely released outside its home country. But the film was a significant hit in one island nation at the top-left corner of Europe. Yes, plucky Ireland has once again punched above its weight. We are, as much as anybody else, to blame for the fact that Will Ferrell has, this merry season, been more on show than Santa Claus.
Elsewhere in the world, the Anchorman phenomenon grew slowly and steadily through ancillary media. This time round, no territory will remain unmolested. Happily for the team, the new film’s milieu is one with a greater global recognition factor: round-the-clock news babble.
We first meet Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his wife, Veronica Corningstone-Burgundy (Christina Applegate), living a comfortable life in the middle reaches of the media hierarchy. Then a slot becomes available on primetime. When Veronica takes the job, Ron storms off to a life of penury that takes in work as an announcer at Sea World (a somewhat unfortunate plot twist, considering that park’s current public relations catastrophes).
But a new era is at hand. Burgundy is offered a job in a 24-hour news station and – despite seeing the concept as ridiculous – sets out to bring the old team together.
The Legend Continues is painfully attuned to the many cliches it skirts and subverts. As if gathering the experts for a heist, Ron extracts mad weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) from his own funeral; slick operator Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) from life as an animal photographer; and semi-repressed Republican Champ Kind (David Koechner) from his highly dubious fried-chicken franchise. Soon, they are changing paradigms in New York City.
Nobody would confuse Anchorman 2 and its bulldozer satire with the BBC’s legendary The Day Today. But there’s no question that, despite all the low-brow anarchy, the film is driven by anger at what happened to TV news during the 1980s. The boys work for a station owned by a someone younger, but every bit as ruthless and Australian as Rupert Murdoch. Whereas Ron’s stupidity offered some slight hindrance to his progress during the 1970s, in the new era that foolishness only accelerates his rise to the top.
A key scene finds the team scrabbling for a story to compete with Veronica’s upcoming interview with Yassar Arafat. At the last minute, they happen upon helicopter footage of a car chase in some central part of the country. The nation tunes in en masse and a fresh form of garbage-chute news is born: patriotic monologues, cute animal stories, endless shots of speeding Ford Broncos.
Anchorman mainly exists, however, as a vehicle for Ferrell to deliver non-sequiturs to a receptive audience. For most of its duration, the picture exhibits enough satirical ballast to distract from its proudly sloppy structure. Then, in the last 20 minutes, the edifice starts to rattle at the joints.
The writers are good at making fun of tired movie formulae (Ron’s continuing inability to make his son’s recitals, for instance) but fail to come up with many worthwhile replacements of their own. By the close, we have given in to a shamelessly indulgent conflagration constructed to facilitate as many celebrity cameos as possible.
The bloke behind me almost died laughing when the person playing the French-Canadian lady turned out to be an actor who had appeared in other, very different films. If you find that sort of thing funny, then Anchorman 2 is the sort of thing you find funny.