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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

When it first became apparent that the world would get a sequel to the 2006 now cult comedy classic Anchorman, one can't help but feel a twinge of hesitation. The original film was the kind of viewing experience that at first was a bit off-putting, but on subsequent re-watches became richer and more quotable each time. The follow-up to a successful comedy of this nature generally leans more towards the cash-in variety. One only needs look toward The Hangover franchise to see how wrongly the comedic sequel route can go. So, how is Ron Burgundy's second feature? An interesting balance of outrageousness and tedium, sometimes at the very same time.

The majority of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell's collaborations have been rather mindless pursuits, not that this is a negative, as both Anchorman and Talladega Nights are long-time favorites; yet with their rather hilarious The Other Guys, it seems as though the duo is aiming for some meaning beneath the layers of ridiculousness. With the former, it was about banking scandals in a rather Bernie Madoff fashion, with Anchorman 2, they're aiming for the 24 hour cable news cycle.

In short, the tale Anchorman 2 weaves circles around 1980, with Ron (Ferrell) and his split with Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) after she is named the first solo female network anchor for the New York Network in which they were both employed. Ron is then hired by GNN, a new 24 hour news station that's a not-so thinly veiled parody of Fox News with its own version of Rupert Murdoch (Josh Lawson). Once hired, Ron brings his old team back, Champ (Dave Koechner), Brick (Steve Carrell), and Brian (Paul Rudd), to join him on this new adventure that includes an ass-kicking/sexually harassing producer (Meagan Good), a new rival for Burgundy (James Marsden), and more cameos than you could imagine. There's a benefit to this more story-centered approach, as it gives a better structured plot for Ferrell and his cohorts to riff their way through. The problem being, I'm not certain that our favorite News Team works as well within that environment. It wasn't the plot of Anchorman that created such endearment, as it is just how bonkers it could get.

There are a number of broad humor moments that I'm not sure really work, such as a scene where Ron meets the family of his new paramour and pulls a number of "race-gags" that seems more fitting for a comedy of two decades ago. On the other hand, when the humor hits, such as Champ's Fried Chicken venture, it's a homerun each time. It's just a bit of a see-saw effect in how effective each punchline is. The film also struggles a bit under the weight of the rising fame of each of its stars since the first film, but specifically Steve Carrell. Brick gets a number of scenes with Kristen Wiig as his burgeoning love interest ,and they get increasingly terrible as the film goes on. Brick works best as a nonsequitor machine but when given a fully-fledged subplot, the exhaustion with his routine sets in rather quickly.

But the above issues are endemic of the story-centered approach that the film takes around the mid-way point, which is where Anchorman 2 loses its way somewhat, with satire that's a mile thick. Luckily, the film is book-ended by stronger material; particularly its third act where McKay and Ferrell take a "devil may care" attitude and provide an incredibly bizarre sub-plot regarding blindness, a light-tower, and nursing a baby shark that only this team could pull off. Following that, it goes even further for broke in the predictable news team battle, that you'd think would be a needless attempt to drum up goodwill from the first film. In ways this is true, in others, it's probably one of the funniest scenes I've seen all year and I couldn't quite make sure I didn't just imagine the whole thing. That's how effective the final third of the movie is, or maybe I'm just completely out of my mind.

With Anchorman 2, there's a few hilarious beats, some chuckle-worthy stuff, and then portions that completely fall flat. It's overlong by about 30 minutes (like every Apatow produced film), and much of that are its attempts at social relevance that just don't quite fit the overall tone of Burgundy's world. Some of the original San Diego charm is also washed away with the transplant to New York, and Paul Rudd is criminally underused. On the other hand, I had a pretty good time watching it, flaws and all, because of the flashes of brilliance in the beginning (I'm still laughing about "the chickens of the cave") and just how off the rails McKay was willing to go before the credits rolled. It certainly isn't the full-on face plant many feared.

It's very possible by the time I see this again, I may like the film far more than I do now, much like the original. McKay's material always needs time to breathe in an almost Coen-like fashion, though I'm certain I'll be the only reviewer to make that particular comparison. For the time being though:

I give it a B.

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