[18 December 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It takes a rare talent to make an offhand line like “By the bedpan of Gene Rayburn” laugh out loud funny. You have to be exceptionally gifted and your target has to be clued into the cult involved, part of that rare pact between artist and audience where anything goes and usually does. Often. Such is the case of Will Ferrell, his crazed ‘70s era news reader, Ron Burgundy, and the pair of films made under the Anchorman brand. When you hear the idea - a spoof of the salon quality hair and facial fur of the Me Decades concept of local news reporting - you can see the infamous manchild and his Dry Look mutton chop designs right away. Now add in a cast of characters completely synchronized with this past-dated kitsch and you’ve got as slam dunk just waiting for someone like director Adam McKay to pass it the ball.
So it comes as no surprise that this sequel, both expanding on and collapsing into the entirety of the Anchorman mythos, features a lot of shots on basket. A lot. It’s also no surprise that, like any well honed machine, most of these jokes land with an effective swish. No net. No backboard. Just one dead on rock after another. When you aren’t laughing at this larger than life loser and his company of equally adept dolts, you’re anticipating the laugh, and that’s the sign of a quality comedy. When something truly tickles your funny bone, that’s rarified air indeed. When it has you ready, willing, and able to chortle again and again and again, that’s akin to a minor miracle. While it’s no raising of the dead, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues deftly turns awaiting audience water into piss in your pants wine.
Over the course of the last few years there have been rumors of Ron Burgundy’s return. One of the most compelling revolved around a possible musical (or better yet, a Les Miz like experience where everyone “sang” their dialogue) with talks of a pre-feature film tryout off Broadway. Citing the size and complexity of such a spectacle, McKay and his star collaborator decided to pass on that idea (though a song or two does remain here, though one can only imagine if they were planned for the stage show). Instead, we get a clever commentary on the whole Fox News dumbing down of the corporatized news media machine as well as the standard skit-like vignettes which turn this otherwise ordinary tale of one egomaniacs comeuppance into yet another Picasso like painting full of cubist craziness.
Since we saw him last, Ron (Ferrell) has married his previous nemesis Veronica (Christina Applegate) and they have a precocious seven year old son. They have been anchoring the weekend news in New York and appear poised to take over for the retiring prime time icon Mack Harken (Harrison Ford). When he finally decides to step down, only Veronica gets the nod, leaving Ron reeling. Eventually, he becomes a raging alcoholic, so drunk he ruins the only gig he can get - as the MC for a dolphin show at Sea World. Well, as luck would have it, the ‘80s introduces the concept of 24 hour news to the cable landscape, and fledgling channel GNN wants all the talent they can afford. With Ron in their price range, he is hired, immediately setting out to find former colleagues Champ Kind (David Koetcher), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell).
Once back in NYC, Ron and the crew face a whole new set of obstacles. Veronica is with a psychiatrist (Greg Kinnear) who thinks our hero is a jerk, GNN is run by a proud black woman (Meagan Good) who sees her latest suit as a tired chauvinist tool, and the reigning prime time talking head, Jack Lime (James Marsden) believes he is unworthy of being on the same channel as this San Diego dolt. When Ron challenges him to a ratings competition, it appears the overnight crew is doomed. But then our hero hits upon the idea of offering people the news “they want,” including cloying human interest stories, animal videos, car chases, and pro-America flag waving and, suddenly, Ron Burgundy is a big fat hit. Naturally, with such fame comes significant personality flaws.
As a gonzo, go for broke piece of performance art, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is a solid stitch and a half. It may run for two hours, but it breeze by like a welcoming waft of air-cooled anarchy. Containing several next day at work sequences and a healthy dose of non-PC preening, this might not be the best possible update to the beloved original film, but it’s a damned fine place to start. As the soundtrack spins several decade defining tracks, we watch as bad suits and even worse hair harkens back to the birthplace of America as Idiocracy. The moment Ron hits upon the idea that audiences will love a police chase filled with non-fact speculation and news reader grandstanding, we can see Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow waiting in the wings.
The all news, all the time cycle is perfect for spoofing but Ferrell and company have little use for it. Instead, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is all about personality and positioning, each character (and accompanying actor) getting their moment of bizzaro world glory. Champ has been running a fried chicken restaurant since Ron left town. Unfortunately, fowl is expensive and his subsitute it sickening. Brick originally believed himself dead. At his funeral, Ron and the gang convince him otherwise. Speaking of the spaced out moron, when he finally gets a date with another dunderhead at GNN (Kristin Wiig), we are walked through Brian’s infamous collection of oddball prophylactics. There’s even a last act battle royale in Central Park which features a collection of cameos so amazing it’s worth double the price of admission alone.
When you consider its pitch perfect cast, lunatic fringe fascinations and go for broke designs, Anchorman 2 was destined to be either a fabulous disaster or one funny as a dog fart experience. In this case, the scent of canine cut cheese is as heady as the humor flung at us by those satiric simians Ferrell and McKay. It may not always be pretty laughter, but its wholly consistent laughter nonetheless.