The Ron Burgundy Anchorman films are the contemporary equivalent of the Austen Powers movies; heavily art-directed, retro-themed pop-cultural parodies where a naïve, politically-incorrect but lovable central character manages to triumph despite his overwhelming stupidity.
The first Anchorman film was a fun, endearing fitfully amusing satire of 1970’s sexism and the news reading profession that allowed Will Ferrell to gloriously indulge his earnest, petulant man-child persona as moustachioed, blow-waved news reading relic Ron Burgundy. That film had some strange moments, particularly when deranged weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell) opened his mouth but the sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is downright weird. The humour approaches the surreal stream of consciousness style of a Zucker Brothers film as Burgundy (just for starters) nurses a shark, battles a Minotaur and smokes crack. We can almost picture the writers sitting around a table with beer, pizza and a few other substances blurting out any idea that came into their head and vowing to use them all.
There is a plot of sorts as Ron Burgundy and former adversary Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are now married and reading the news together on a New York TV station. When Veronica lands the prime-time anchor role while Ron is unceremoniously sacked by corporate slime-ball (Harrison Ford), Ron’s life once again spirals into disarray. Facing life as a scotch guzzling Sea World host, Ron’s hopes are suddenly resurrected by the offer of a news reading gig on a new phenomenon, a 24 hour news channel called GNN. Assembling the old team of Brick, red-neck sports presenter Champ Kind (David Koechner) and hirsute roving reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Ron stumbles into the world of news 1980’s-style. Much of the film’s humour revolves around Ron and his gang disastrously confronting the world of 1980’s political correctness particularly when Ron discovers that his boss is African American woman, Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). The fact that Burgundy is still a likeable character despite being racist and sexist is testament to Will Ferrell’s appeal as an actor and in this case, his wit as a scriptwriter’s as he co-wrote the film with director Adam McKay.
Somehow, amid the welter of mutating sub-plots, genital gags and bizarre outbursts from Ferrel and Carrell, the film amusingly satirises corporate controlled, dumbed-down tabloid TV news. In an Isaac Newton-like moment of insight Ron hits on the idea that masses will watch news that tells them what they want to hear (O.J.-style car chases and Bobbit-inspired penis loppings) rather than what they need to hear. The no-nonsense Jackson is horrified but the brash Aussie network owner (Josh Lawson) loves the idea particularly when it turns into a ratings smash.
This crazy film tries just about everything in the comedy playbook and surprisingly, a lot of it works. Still, the film’s lack of focus becomes confusing at times and means that some comic threads are just left to dangle. Ron’s conflicts with two his nemeses, Veronica’s snide, ponytail-wearing new lover (Greg Kinnear) and arrogant jock news reading rival Jack Lime (James Marsden) don’t have much dramatic impact or major laughs and just seem to peter out. The film also has a sub-plot about Champ being sexually attracted to Ron and taking every opportunity to feel him up but this idea is soon ditched.
While the first Anchorman film featured some effectively brief star cameos in its news crew battle sequence, this one is over-stuffed with familiar faces. Nearly all of Hollywood seems to have emptied onto the Anchorman 2 set for, well, basically the same gag with Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Will Smith, Vince Vaughan, Tina Fey and Jim Carrey among many others making an appearance. None of these megastars, though, is given much to work with.
The Anchorman films are, however, about Will Ferrell and in what seems to be a partially improvised role he is once again inspired as the wonderfully vain cretinous Burgundy; he actually tops his performance in the first film. Steve Carrell, having become a comic megastar since the first film, now receives a lot of screen time and his character Brick Tamland makes an amusing foray into romance with the wonderfully weird and endearingly innocent Chani (Kristen Wiig). Rudd and Koechner’s characters develop little, though and mostly repeat their gags and comic tics from the first film.
Anchorman two’s chaotic nature will disappoint some viewers who liked the more focused parody of the first movie but in its mad flailing fashion this film mostly hits the mark.
Nick’s rating: ***
Director(s): Adam McKay.
Release date: 19th Dec 2013.
Running time: 119 mins.
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