Still classy – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues review

Anchorman 2

By Simon Miraudo
December 9, 2013

The inspired lunacy of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is downgraded to calculated silliness in its long-gestating sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, but hey, that is barely cause for complaint. This thing almost didn’t get made at all, and though it’s always unlikely for a beloved cult classic to be bettered by its unnecessary follow-up (pause for the funeral procession of Airplane 2: The Sequel, Caddyshack 2, and Fletch Lives to pass) Adam McKay‘s second Anchorman has enough highlights to warrant its existence. Yes, many of those highlights are merely reheated jokes from the original, simply escalated to the point of insanity; they still inspired big belly laughs, and that is the only metric by which we should be judging Anchorman movies. We’re lucky to live in a world where The Legend Continues is allowed to exist, even in its slightly plagiarised form. (If it had never been made, but we still got all the press appearances of Will Ferrell in character as Ron Burgundy, such as his stint co-hosting a North Dakota news broadcast, or anchoring Winnipeg’s curling coverage, I’d still consider us truly, truly blessed as a society. So that’s where I’m coming at this sequel from, full disclosure.)

For those unfamiliar with the 2004 original – seriously? – Ron Burgundy is an old-fashioned San Diego newsman who once famously intoned his apartment smelt of “rich mahogany.” All these years later, that is still the best way to describe him. In the first film, set during the 1970s, he feared the rise of women in the workplace, ultimately softening enough to actually accept the modern Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) as both his co-anchor and lover. He’s re-hardened in the opening moments of this second venture, when their boss, Mack Harken (Harrison Ford), fires Ron and promotes Veronica as the station’s sole anchor. Ron embarks on a six-month tumble down the emotional and professional drainpipe, leading him to hosting daytime SeaWorld exhibits in a vomit-stained leisure suit, making advances towards the female trainers in plain sight of the public, and threatening to punch the dolphins in their stupid, smiling faces. It’s like that scene in Boogie Nights, when William H. Macy shoots himself in the head at a New Year’s Eve party, heralding the end of a freewheeling era. Welcome to the 1980s, indeed.

Anchorman 2

An offer from a desperate producer (Dylan Baker) to host the graveyard shift on a burgeoning 24-hour network in New York inspires Ron to re-assemble his team, including closeted sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), slimy street reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), and the relentlessly dim weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). With the help of acclaimed producer Linda Jackson (Meagan Good) –  who, as Ron often reminds us, is black – and incited by a rivalry with the network’s smug poster boy Jack Lime (James Marsden, who seems to have a clause in his contract that all co-stars must remark of his cartoonish handsomeness), Ron and his pals seek to become the most popular anchors in the world. How? By telling the people of America only what they want to hear, focusing on human interest stories, fear-mongering, and following feeds of car-chases and guestimating the debauched criminality of the drivers, no matter if they just turn out to be confused elderly people.

McKay, who co-wrote the picture with Ferrell, has been imbuing his comedies with an increasingly political undercurrent, making pretty vicious comments on the state of America. Shockingly, Anchorman 2 is his most vicious satire to date. Talladega Nights spoofed the grotesque, brand-emblazoned sponsorship of rising national pastime NASCAR and the United States at large; The Other Guys was a take-down of the Wall Street suits responsible for the financial crisis, disguised as a buddy cop flick; Step Brothers‘ target was best evidenced by its soundtrack selection, ‘North American Scum’. This time around, McKay takes to task not just easy chum like Fox News, but also CNN, which self-destructed earlier in the year thanks to its bungled coverage of the Boston bombings. By donating all their airtime to the hunt for its subjects, they misidentified and speculated wildly, undoing their brand and hard-won reputation in a matter of days. Even Ron Burgundy – the Palaeolithic imbecile who once threatened to punch a woman “right in the babymaker” – comes to understand this style of news-telling (and making) is just plain wrong. And if that isn’t an indictment of the modern news cycle, I don’t know what is.

Anchorman 2

That message can only be stealthily imparted if the comedy disguising it is good enough to draw audiences in. Thankfully, Anchorman 2 is indeed funny enough. Only time will tell if its non-sequiturs will penetrate the culture as successfully as the first Anchorman‘s did. However, I must admit I struggled to recall any particularly memorable quotes soon after leaving the screening. But I did laugh, often heartily. The call-backs to gags from the original fare best, such as the introduction of Fantana’s many, many, often-horrifying condoms (much like the debut of his cologne collection in Part One), and the climactic Battle of the Newsteams does not disappoint, veering into such madness I could hardly believe it was actually unfolding before me. (The cameos were impressive; the duelling minotaur and were-hyena were something else entirely.)

Anchorman 2 also features a sweet side-story involving Ron’s fathering of a baby shark that culminates in a haunting farewell anthem, precisely the kind of nuttiness we hope to see in a Ferrell/McKay collaboration. It must be said, overall, this is not as successful a satire of its era as the original was; rather, its barbs are directed at news as it is now. This means Ron Burgundy, the brilliant comic creation, is somewhat removed from his entire raison d’être. He – like, Mad Men‘s Don Draper – should be a dinosaur facing a new age and struggling to adapt (as we briefly see during a dinner with Victoria’s family wherein he self-destructs in glorious, hugely-insensitive fashion). Here, he’s ahead of his time, and that is just plain peculiar.

Anchorman 2

Ferrell is a delight in the role though; the perfect marriage of performer and subject. (His Robert Goulet and Neil Diamond impressions copulated and birthed a wondrous monster.) That he can generate any sympathy from us at all while being a terrible human being is as miraculous as comedic performances get. His supporting players are all ingenious too, although Brick’s shtick is starting to grate. Mercifully, Carell is given a foil and love interest in Kristen Wiig‘s like-empty-minded Chani, and their shared sequences are genuinely odd and heart-warming. True, it never touches the greatness of its parent, yet Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues stays classy, broadcasting more brilliant gags per minute than most comedies this year.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues arrives in Australian cinemas December 19, 2013.

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