Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
The long-awaited, some might suggest past-its-sell-by-date, return of Ron Burgundy doesn’t begin well. It pretty much confirmed my fears this was a sequel with no reason to be, one that weakly rehash the gags and set-ups from the first movie. It isn’t until the gang gets back together that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay hit their groove, by which I mean there’s a higher hit than miss ratio to the jokes. Many of the ideas that come with the central concept are soft connects, but the more absurd The Legend Continues gets, the funnier it becomes, leading to a final act (if you can call it that) so glorious in its silliness that much of what fails before becomes virtually irrelevant.
Anchorman 2 was on-again, off-again for quite some time before it finally got the green light, with a stage musical even considered at one point. It seemed to me to be messing with a good thing; the inspired lunacy of the first picture had already shown its limits with the stapled-together outtakes of Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie. Additionally, as uproariously funny as I found the first picture, it was mostly down to only half of the KVWN news staff. That is, surrogate Judd Apatow Paul Rudd seems to get a free pass in these improv comedies without ever being particularly funny while David Koechner’s sportscaster is a one-joke character who quickly becomes tiring.
It’s not so much that the entrance of Brian Fantana and Champ Kind (in fairness there’s a decent joke about the fast food Champ serves at his restaurant; “The chicken of the cave”) adds to the movie as that it gives Ferrell his bearings. Of particular benefit is Steve Carrell’s Brick Tamland, who pretty much steals the move and is easily line-for-line the funniest thing here (“One time I went digging for treasure and I found half a body”). His romance with Kristen Wiig’s Chani Lastnamé, his mental equal, is gloriously random and Wiig is such a great comedienne she can match any given insanity Carrell reels off.
The idea that a blundering fool like Ron (as Harrison Ford’s Mack Tannen says before firing him, he’s the worst news anchor he’s ever seen) could make a success of himself by moronically realising how to make news popular, thus birthing the modern media vacuum (“Why can’t we just tell them what they want to hear?”) isn’t exactly the stuff of satire, and it somewhat diminishes the movie that it even attempts such lacklustre “commentary”. Likewise, the subplot concerning a genuinely important news story that is buried (about parts falling off aeroplanes) is so half-hearted it’s resolved as an afterthought. Presumably the Australian news magnate is based loosely on Rupert Murdoch, but they shouldn’t have bothered if so. There’s also a thoroughly hopeless plot thread concerning Ron’s African American producer (Meagan Good), which is a chance to lazily rehearse Ron’s sexism from the first movie and trot out some really tired racism gags (a family dinner where Ron calls his family “pipe smoking bitches”).
Ron’s sudden success presenting shows on whatever he wants (a high-speed car chase) is all a bit too easy, and some of the (usually Rudd-related) material (a cabinet of condoms, “Top 50 greatest vaginas”) smack of desperation. On the other hand, the team trying crack on air (“It’s just so refreshing!”) has a guileless lunacy. The subplot concerning Ron’s estranged wife (a returning Christina Applegate) and son would fall completely flat if it weren’t for a very game Gregg Kinnear (“You’re reading my mind!” insists Ron to Kinnear’s psychologist; it’s a gag that, as with several others, pays off insanely during the climactic news team battle). The mid-section ambles along agreeably enough, but it wouldn’t justify this nine years later return if not for what follows. They have a bit of a cheek taking a swipe at how funny Garfield is(n’t), given their own variable output (I admit it, I was a big fan of Garfield back then).
It’s the point at which Ferrell and McKay disregard plot coherence entirely, as Ron goes blind (“I can’t even masturbate!”), brushes his teeth with a lobster, adopts a pet shark named Doby and then becomes embroiled in a bigger-better-more insane version of the news team fight from the first movie. The succession of cameos during this sequence is a lazy way to get an easy laugh (or at very least a reaction), but the it really lands for its most absurd moments (“He’s a were-hyena!”, “It’s a gun from the future” “The minotaur isn’t even history. He’s mythology!”) It also illustrates that Sacha Baron Cohen does a very good impression of Peter Cook doing an upper-class twit. The straight actor supporting turns also work well; Dylan Baker is clearly having fun, while James Marsden’s Jack Lime/Lame is fun enough that, with this and Enchanted, he should probably give up the serious roles altogether.
My favourite part of the first movie was absolutely Ron’s relationship with faithful pooch Baxter. It was probably sensible not to try to repeating this wholesale. Baxter does appear (“That man is so little and hairy”) and even gets some much-earned subtitles right at the end, but this picture is at its best when its being inventive rather than riffing on near-decade old ideas (I say that, admitting that the best scene is a reprise of one in the first). Colour me surprised The Legend Continues is as good as it is. Whether it made financial sense for Paramount in the end is a whole different question. Probably eventually. It was a bigger hit than the first in the US, but failed to gain much traction internationally; in the current environment, any big-name comedy (traditionally the most difficult genre to sell abroad) would have expected to do better than this. It might be another decade before we see Anchorman 3.