By Melissa Agar
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount, 2013) – Director: Adam McKay. Writers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay. Cast: Will Farrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Dylan Baker, Meagan Good, Kristen Wiig, Harrison Ford, Judah Nelson, & James Marsden. Color, 119 minutes.
It doesn’t seem quite real that it’s been nearly a decade since Ron Burgundy strutted into the pop culture landscape. Since the 2004 debut of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the film has had far-reaching effects across our culture. Remember, the movie came out roughly nine months before the American version of The Office debuted, represented the re-invention of Rudd as a comedy star (although Wet Hot American Summer should have accomplished that, but no one saw that terrific cult classic), and made producer Judd Apatow the new godfather of American comedy. Anchorman was part of a wave of films that revolutionized the comedy genre, embracing the well-meaning lout, the guy who says the most inappropriate thing imaginable with no apologies, but who is protected by his ignorance and because, deep down, there’s something fundamentally decent about the guy. No one represents the face of American comedy more than Farrell’s Burgundy, a Scotch-swilling sexist idiot who is fiercely loyal to his friends (especially his dog), passionate about his work, and plays a mean jazz flute. And now, nearly 10 years after encouraging us all to “stay classy,” Burgundy and his crew are back in a sequel that is filled with laughs while also being a pretty savvy critique of contemporary American media.
The sequel picks up in 1980, several years after the events of the first film. Ron and his beloved Veronica Corningstone (Applegate) are now married with a seven-year-old son named Walter (Nelson). Ron and Veronica co-anchor the weekend news on a major network, but things collapse when Ron is passed over for a coveted promotion that goes to Veronica. His career over, his marriage over, Ron hits the skids, serving as a drunken, vomit-covered, profane emcee of the dolphin show at Sea World.
He is approached by Freddie Shapp (Baker) to take part in a crazy experiment, the launching of a 24-hour news network called GNN. Ron assembles the news team – Champ Kind (Koechner), Brick Tamland (Carell), and Brian Fontana (Rudd) – and they head to New York to assume the graveyard shift on the fledgling network. Desperate to win the ratings game, Ron comes up with a seemingly radical idea – give the people the news they WANT rather than what they NEED. Ron is shepherding in a new era of news where we’re focused on cute animals and car chases, all wrapped up in a neat, patriotic blanket. Of course, he’s also becoming the kind of newsman he never really wanted to be.
A sequel to a comedy is a difficult proposition. Part of the entertainment value in a comedy is its freshness, that sense of discovery. Once that freshness is gone and familiarity is established, the comedy may disappear. I don’t know how many times I have seen a movie and laughed myself silly only to be disappointed when I caught the movie later on HBO or DVD and found myself not laughing at all. The problem with a sequel is that we know the characters; we know their quirks, so where can we mine the laughter?
Where Anchorman 2 succeeds is in giving us the familiar with new twists. Farrell and co-writer (and director) McKay put Ron and the crew in a new environment with a new foil in the form of arrogant anchorman Jack Lime (Marsden), new love interests (Good and Wiig), and new challenges. While the film follows a similar narrative arc as Anchorman once Ron lands at GNN, Farrell and McKay manage to put new spins on that arc and up the ante. A lot of familiar tropes from the first film show up, but like any sequel, they are bigger and grander. At the same time, there is a different heart beating at the core of this adventure. The fact that Ron is now a father becomes significant, too, because there is more at stake where his rise and fall is concerned this time.
The movie finds laughs in the buffoonery of its principal characters, but it also moves into a clever satiric direction that is much more pointed than the sexual politics satire that helped drive the first film. I saw the movie with a group of students from my speech team. When Ron began talking about his ideas to win better ratings, I could feel this collective beat of recognition emanate from this admittedly pretty smart and savvy crew. (It doesn’t hurt that one of their teammates last season competed successfully with a speech she wrote on the dumbing down of American media, so it was a topic many of them knew well.) The message Farrell and McKay are trying to deliver here isn’t necessarily delivered with tremendous subtlety, but it’s still a pretty smart punch to the guts of our dumbed down media culture.
Is Anchorman 2 for everyone? No, it’s not. I know there are plenty of people out there who find Farrell’s brand of humor off-putting. I’m not one of them. I am consistently charmed by his on-screen persona. Anchorman 2 is not for the Farrell haters. For me and the dozen or so students who joined me on my adventure to see the movie, though, it was a great couple of hours filled with a lot of belly laughs, big surprise cameos, and just enough heart and intelligence to make us not feel too guilty when we walked out into the parking lot. It may not live up to the hysterical levels of hype that have been put into it over the past month or so, but it’s a fun, clever film.