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Entries in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues [2013] (1)

Sunday
Dec222013

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

This Just In: Critic Yawns to Death During Anchorman 2 Screening

In case you're wondering (though this should come as no surprise) I'm the guy who hates 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the sad-sack party-pooper who passes out blank looks like Christmas presents whenever someone quotes that film's "classic" and "hilarious" lines. To be clear, I'm a big fan of most everyone involved, but the thin premise, artificial randomness, and writers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's fatal devotion to improvisational, see-if-it-sticks movie-making makes that ninety-minute comedy feel like two hours.

The sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, actually is two hours long, but feels at times like six. I think it's a better comedy, though, based solely on the filmmakers' having squeezed three more laughs out of me than they did the first time out (for a grand total of five). I understand that humor is subjective, and one can't be faulted for finding something funny,* so let's leave that aside for a moment and look at why Anchorman 2 fails as a movie.

Anchorman 2 is Not Original. By definition, a sequel cannot be original--but that's not what I'm talking about. After nine years, and with a reported budget of over $50 million, audiences deserve more than Ferrell and company popping up on screen and screwing around. We got the premise a decade ago: Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) is the chauvinistic, racist, alcoholic anchor of a local San Diego news program. His reporting team is comprised of similarly one-dimensional nut-jobs (Paul Rudd is the idiot stud; David Koechner is the macho redneck who's not-so-secretly gay; Steve Carell is the space cadet who shouts random things at inappropriate times). They all have Krazy Komedy Names because they're local news guys. And their adventures take place in the 1970s--which, by default, excuses the creative team from having to move past the polyester, bad hair, and jokes about gas lines.

The sequel finds these characters recruited to pioneer a 24-hour news station in New York, run by a wacky Australian (Josh Lawson) and managed by a black female executive (Meagan Good). Right out of the gate, you should be able to tick off a Mad Libs-style compilation of jokes. It's Ferrell and McKay's job, as professional comedy writers (and McKay's as director), to push beyond the obvious--but they settle for square one. Careful viewers will note that there are maybe ten minutes of bona fide new material here. The rest is recycled from the first film and unartfully re-arranged just enough to avoid being slapped with a "remake" label (Ron loses his job and makes a drunken, public spectacle of himself; the news gang has a fight and breaks up until the last act; there's a cameo-heavy mega-brawl involving different kinds of newsmen; and on and on and on).

Add to that the deserving-of-retirement climax involving a mad dash to get to his estranged son's (Judah Nelson) music recital, and the epic scope of the screenplay's laziness comes into sharp focus. You may argue for the out-of-control-van bit (which serves as the centerpiece for Anchorman 2's marketing), but that also goes back nearly a decade--to a porno movie called Camp Cuddly Pines Powertool Massacre. I'm not saying the filmmakers have seen it--and I'm not saying I have, either--but it's out there, and the gag's not nearly as funny the second time around.

Anchorman 2 is Not Smart. Buried under the dusty old jokes is a fantastic and timely idea for a mainstream comedy: Burgundy discovers that his boss (who, as a cross between Ted Turner and Richard Branson, also owns an airline) has decided to kill a story about plane parts falling from the sky. Though he and his news team have become a ratings phenomenon by introducing the puff piece to America, Burgundy is conflicted about not reporting on something so substantial.

Instead of digging into this, the writers simply make him "turn evil" for a few scenes (which leads back to the news team breakup) and then come clean (sort of) on the air when the third act requires that he do so. There's no meat to the story, no reason to care about material that consumes maybe an eighteenth of the run-time. Why create a movie that will make people laugh and think, when we can just cut back to Carell and his new, equally vacant girlfriend (played by Kristen Wiig, who looks as though she's flipping through her mental Rolodex of SNL characters while waiting for McKay to call "Action!")?

I'll tell you why: because Anchorman 2 is the worst kind of PG-13 comedy. It skews towards the demographic actually listed in the ratings box, rather than aiming for both the gut and the head. The fact that adults are apparently losing their goddamned minds with laughter in theatres (I shared an auditorium with some real hyenas on Thursday night) tells me there's something to an MPAA report detailing how few movies people actually attend each year.

Anchorman 2 Panders. In one scene, Ron Burgundy brims over with so much rage that a close-up of his eyeballs reveals a scene from Jean-Claude Van Damme's Bloodsport playing across his pupils (in fairness, it might have been Kickboxer). Much of Anchorman 2 takes place between 1979 and 1980--eight years before anyone had even heard of "The Muscles from Brussels". I also challenge anyone to dig up cable-news footage from the era this film reportedly takes place in, which looks as McKay and company depict it. Burgundy and company don't just introduce us to 24-hour news, they give us busy graphics, multiple windows, chyrons--the whole new-century info package, thirty years too early.

Why is this pandering? Precisely because the filmmakers apparently think no one will notice. They seem to believe that packing their movie with even more cameos than the first will distract the audience from the fact that their story is a brittle skeleton draped in half-baked sketches and embarrassing anachronisms. Sure, put Harrison Ford in your movie--but is it too much to ask that he be given something to do, other than show up, get a reaction, and leave? Sure, invite Drake and Kanye West to be in your movie--but please make sure they can act before measuring them for outrageous period wardrobe. Sure, put Liam Neeson, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, and Marion Cotillard (or, as most Anchorman fans will call her, "that one chick from Dark Knight Rises") in your movie--but can we please give them material that's worthy of their time and ours?**

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, McKay talked about how tightly he and Ferrell script their movies. Anchorman 2 was originally a 122-page screenplay--most of which was filmed but then discarded in favor of letting the actors improvise lines. Some of these lines likely influenced the order and manner in which the final movie was put together, and I guess that explains why it's such a mess. Ultimately, this is less a film than a live-action comic strip compilation (it's also an incomplete compilation, as evidenced by the fact that at least half the jokes you'll see in the trailers don't actually appear in the movie).

If you're looking for brilliant improvisational films that rise above the level of elaborate ejaculation and scotch jokes, check out any of Christopher Guest's movies. If you want a smart, twisty comedy that actually takes place in 1970s New York, buy a ticket for American Hustle. But if all you crave is a gaggle of self-satisfied millionaire actors selling outtakes as entertainment, then Anchorman 2 is definitely more your speed.

*For example, I'm in very real danger of having my critics' credentials revoked for admitting that Movie 43 is one of my favorite comedies of the year.

**Admittedly, the climactic cameo cavalcade ignited my brain momentarily. I suddenly became half-interested in plot progression, and abandoned my scheme to inconspicuously check the time under my coat.