I have a confession to make: Before I watched Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, I thought Will Ferrell wasn’t that funny.
I liked Elf and thought Old School was great, but I was indifferent to him. I wouldn’t skip a movie because he was in it, but I never signed up for the Will Ferrell fan club. That all changed with Anchorman.
Ferrell quickly rose from an SNL regular and that guy in the Austin Powers movies who was “very badly burned,” to a comedic superstar. Anchorman not only solidified his spot as a borderline genius, it launched director Adam McKay’s film career, helped Judd Apatow find his place in film after a cruelly limited run on TV, and made the B-list supporting cast into A-list stars.
After Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, I may have to take it all back. At least some of it.
I did laugh throughout Anchorman 2, partly because of some genuinely funny moments, and partly because the audience collectively laughed, before many of us looked around and realized that we weren’t sure why. Ferrell devotees may find the humor spot on – and God bless ‘em – but for what is probably the majority of us, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues builds on all the wrong jokes from the original. You know how everyone loved Ron’s “By the Beard of Zeus!” exclamation? Now imagine that same gag, only 19 times, over and over. It’s repetition over originality, and the plot frequently stops just short of being anything really interesting or edgy.
The story picks up in 1980, several years after the events of the first film. Ron Burgundy and his wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are anchoring the weekend news in New York, when Veronica is promoted and Ron is fired. Naturally, Ron can’t handle this, and rides a downward spiral that ends back to San Diego.
Ron’s firing marks the first of several incredible cameos throughout Anchorman 2. Seriously, there are probably actors in Hollywood that are going to be upset that they didn’t get a call to be in the movie. It’s a gimmick, like much of the humor in the film, but it’s a good one that speaks to the impact of the first film.
After a bout with alcohol and depression, Ron is given the chance to read the news again back in New York at GNN, the first 24-hour news network. He accepts the job, then heads off to get the band back together. First up is Champ Kind (David Koechner) on sports, then Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) as the investigative reporter, and finally Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell) on weather.
It’s repetition over originality, and the plot frequently stops just short of being anything really interesting or edgy.
When they get to GNN, Ron finds that he is a small fish with excellent hair in a very big pond. He and his crew are stuck in the graveyard shift, and his boss Linda (Meagan Good) is both black and a woman. Yes, that is a major plot point, and yes it is awkward and uncomfortably handled. Meanwhile, his wife and son are living with a new, possibly psychic psychologist named Gary (Greg Kinnear).
Ron then hits on an idea that promises to elevate the movie from recycled jokes from the previous movie to witty satire: He decides to change the format of the news and talk about how great America is. From there he and his team grow increasingly more sensationalistic, and as a result, more popular.
Everything is set up for Anchorman 2 to go after the modern news industry, complete with plenty of deliberate parallels between GNN and Fox News. GNN’s owner, a wealthy, Rupert Murdoch-like Australian who inherited his money, claims to have bought the news to control it. Beyond a few good jokes stemming from the sensationalism though, this plot is pushed aside. The story then becomes a predictable morality tale involving Ron’s hubris and his family. It’s around then that the story completely goes off the rails from potentially edgy to overly familiar and saccharine.
Anchorman 2 is brimming with good ideas, but they typically go nowhere and can’t live up to the original promise. At one point Ron casually tells people that he was away nursing a baby shark, which is a hilariously odd line. It comes after a lengthy and bizarre segment that actually shows him raising the shark, which is more bizarre than funny.
Similarly, the supporting cast are mostly left in the background, with the exception of Carrell’s Brick. Brick has a major subplot involving a woman named Chani (Kristen Wiig), who is in every way his equal. Their lengthy interactions produce some laughs, but then just grow weird and almost sad. The same is true of the forced affair between Ron and his boss Linda, which comes out of nowhere, builds to dinner with her family, and leads to several racist jokes. It’s not that the jokes are uncomfortable – although they are – it’s more that they just don’t offer anything new.
Part of what made the original movie work was that it was smart, and filled with surprises. It was a good blend of unpredictable wit and low-brow gags. That balance is gone, and the humor is far more predictable because of it.
Although Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues broke a tiny piece of my heart, there are some genuinely funny moments. The cameo-filled finale almost saves the movie on its own. Almost. But even though I laughed, they were mostly cheap and hollow laughs, and afterwards I was left thinking about the numerous flaws and missed opportunities.
If Anchorman 2 were a standalone film, it would be just under average; predictable and filled with over the top gags. As the sequel to one of the funniest films of the last decade though, it is a disappointment.