Sunday, May 4, 2014

Stay Crappy, Ron Burgundy

At the height of Will Ferrell's movie career, the former Saturday Night Star was more unavoidable than Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and David Spade combined. Arguably his magnum opus was the 2004 comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy which, despite being a minor hit at best, is probably the most fondly remembered of his comedic works. So when Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues was announced last year, it was met by fans of the original with great hope for a continuing franchise. Sadly, while it managed to accrue decent reviews and a better box office draw, its release during the uber-crowded holiday season caused it to fly under more than a few radars, mine included. The result was a so-so theatrical run that was almost completely forgotten by most. So now that a little time has passed, does this sequel stack up to the fun and quotable- and at times, brilliant - modern classic?
Proof that jheri curls are just plain wrong
The film takes place several years after the conclusion of the first Anchorman, with renowned newsman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) being fired due to his sloppy work. After sinking into drink and depression and separating from his much more successful wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), Ron is recruited to anchor an all-new, 24-hour news channel. Alongside his loyal news team (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner), Ron wants to make the most of his second chance, though he is handicapped by a graveyard shift timeslot, a smug, superior rival in prime-time anchorman Jack Lime (James Marsden) and learning to operate under the heel of black, female studio chief Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). In overcoming those obstacles, Ron Burgundy succeeds in ways nobody could fathom and changes the way people watch the news for all time.
I'd say Old vs. New, but James Marsden is actually 40.
Well, there's no nice way to say this: here the sequel is vastly inferior to the original. It's not that Anchorman 2 doesn't have its moments, or isn't particularly funny when it wants to be. It's genuinely great seeing the four leads back again, their camaraderie just as fresh and entertaining as it was nine years prior. Returning director Adam McKay gets good performances out of his actors, and while not every line of dialogue is gold, the best ones can slip under the radar and catch the audience completely unaware, making the film work hard for its laughs. The film also takes an interesting turn in its portrayal of the news, in this case its look at racial integration, the empowerment of African Americans in the media, and the transformation of the news from the early days of Walter Kronkite to the buzz-word TMZ and FOX News style of today's guerilla journalism. No, it's not meant to be educational, but that Anchorman 2 bothers to acknowledge it at all is reticent of the brains behind it. Finally, there are dozens of laudable cameo appearances, culminating in a sequel "News Team Battle Royale" that actually manages to beat the very good one from the first entry. Simply put, when Anchorman 2 is on its A-game, it appears unstoppable.
That moustache is still hypnotic, though...
But for every worthy laugh, awesome cameo and genuine moment of mirth, there are dozens of dead zones where just about everything goes wrong. For some reason, the editing team does a lousy job pacing this flick, which is strange when you consider that it's the same team that worked with McKay on The Other Guys, Step Brothers and the original Anchorman. So either Brent White was seriously off his meds, or nothing could possibly be salvageable from the lackadaisical story penned by Ferrell and McKay. The script does nothing of value with Applegate, who is still shoved in to the detriment of a superior, more interesting lead female character in Good's sassy, brilliant studio head. Whole storylines are introduced as a means to present some sort of conflict for Ron, but are then scrapped halfway through without any true resolution. McKay and Ferrell have ABSOLUTELY no idea how to use a creative genius such as Kristen Wiig, despite setting her character up in the most perfect of ways. And while Judah Nelson is positively the worst child actor I've ever seen, I still can't put all the blame on him because I'm not 100% certain that wasn't intentional. And either way, it didn't work.
"Adam McKay doesn't recognize my true worth."
Frankly, it all falls down to one solitary issue: Anchorman 2 just isn't all that funny. It TRIES to pull out the big laughs, and when the script focuses on the interactions between the News Team, the outrageous cameos and some of the more nuanced dialogue, it manages to hit that sweet spot to which all comedies aspire. But too often the movie shoots for the stars, only to fall tragically short. Worse, the fake melodramatics are punched up a bit TOO much, making that lack of true humor all the more noticeable. And even the really funny bits aren't all that memorable. Any fan of the original Anchorman probably has a dozen favorite lines of dialogue that could be rattled off the top of their head, but there just isn't that level of immortalising here, with the only ones that stick being call-backs to those great lines from the first movie.
And this is why we hate them.
The result is that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues might amuse you for a couple of hours, but you'll forget why almost immediately afterward. Yes, there are a few funny bits, and again that News Team brawl - though you have to wait until the end - is one of the bawdiest things I've seen of late. But this is definitely a fan-only event, and even those who loved the original Anchorman won't be all that impressed by the watered-down schlock that wasn't worth a ten year wait. If you're desperate for a comedy to see, and you loved the original, there's definitely something appealing about this sequel. But those expecting a return to the glory days of Will Ferrell will be sorely tested by yet another missed mark.

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