The long-awaited return of moustachioed lothario anchorman Ron Burgundy is a disappointment; it’s as forced and puffed up as his hairdo – a series of stitched together gags that form an incoherent story about the perils of manipulative media. It should know; Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is all about manipulating old set-ups and leveraging star power to give patient fans what it thinks is an authentic experience, but one that never comes close to the wry wit and perfect timing of the original. The hypocrisy of it all!
As the scene is set against the puffed-up hair and neon colours of the 1980s, we join Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and co-anchor partner Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) at a pivotal moment in their careers and relationship. Things are thrown into flux when their working relationship changes radically and Ron gets shafted. It’s here that the shameless familiarity sets in.
No stranger to a graceless and meandering search for redemption, Ron is once again playing off gags around broken homes, unemployment, substance abuse and the search for his place in the entertainment sphere. This time, however, the writing has taken a nosedive; returning support characters Champ (David Koechner), Brian (the always delightful Paul Rudd) and Brick (Steve Carell) have begun to suffer from “Homer-itis” – the purposeful dumbing down and oversimplification of their core personalities to the point of pure stupidity. Like the famed Simpsons father, their once hilarious personality quirks are writ large and played off again and again.
Champ, whose barely closeted feelings for Ron were a late and careful laugh at the end of Anchorman, is little more than a vehicle for homophobic jokes throughout the sequel. Brick, meanwhile, who was once innocuously simple and charmingly innocent, seems to have plunged further into the depths of crippling retardation. At least he gets the best lines in the film – though, much of the credit goes to Steve Carell’s perfect physical comedy.
There are parts that work – and work well. There are new love interests – Brick’s equal emerges in the form of the versatile and wonderful Kristen Wiig, who works well against Carell’s persistent scenery chewing. There are new threats – the clean-cut uberpresenter Jack Lime (James Marsden). There are fan-favourite characters, cute kittens and dogs, sex jokes and a great 80s aesthetic. But it rings hollow, like an extended Saturday Night Live episode.
So where does the blame rest, exactly, for this misfired cannonball of potential greatness? Director Adam McKay, whose chequered career has tasted the sweetest highs (Step Brothers) and sweat-inducing lows (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) just doesn’t cut together a coherent narrative from the jumpy, screechy mess of skits and jumbled one-liners.
McKay, along with long-time collaborator and comedy magnate Judd Apatow, returning to executively produce, either didn’t rein in the performers enough – or didn’t provide them with enough creative freedom to experiment. We’re siding with the latter; the original Anchorman was only very loosely scripted, allowing for a high degree of improvisation, which produced not only some of the film’s best moments, but also a highly editable and fluid film.
We get the reverse here; a film that adheres too closely to a wishy-washy script; some gags hit home and get the belly laughs rippling through the crowd; those that really nail the sharp but subtle digs at TV production and great character interplay. But far too often Anchorman 2 goes for pure slapstick and, worse, simply playing off the same gags from the first film. There’s a Sex Panther moment, a showdown sequence, numerous cameos thrown in simply to raise the bar and add to the star appeal. You’ll see them coming and the film ticks its boxes accordingly.
The bottom line:For a film that goes out of its way to proselytise about the pratfalls of pandering to the audience’s expectations simply for the easy bucks, Anchorman 2 does just that. If the original Anchorman is ‘The Onion’, Anchorman 2 has inadvertently become ‘FOX News’. Maybe it’s time to change the channel.