News Flash: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues pales in comparison to the original!
There once was a time when a film called Anchorman existed as a singular, comedic entity. A wholly original, joyously surreal and slightly camp entrant into the annals of the American comedy film that spawned countless imitators and managed to worm its way into the everyday lexicon of casual cultural referencing. Anchorman depicted the exploits of a local San Diegan news team in the 1970s and the celebrity status they achieved, with the shining light being that of Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), a chic, perfectly sculpted man of the people.
Much like sands through the hourglass however, time must pass. Now, ten years after Anchorman honoured us with its presence, there is a second chapter in the saga of Ron Burgundy and company: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. After numerous years atop the network news food chain, Ron Burgundy and his co-anchor wife Veronica Corningstone-Burgundy (Christina Applegate) now have a son together named Walter (Judah Nelson a.k.a. the worst child actor since John Cassavetes’ Gloria). When Ron is fired and his wife promoted, his ego kicks into hyper drive and the pair split, leaving Ron a desperate and sad alcoholic.
Moments after a botched suicide attempt, Ron is approached by Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) who offers him a position on a brand new 24 hour news network with the option of hand picking his team. After scoffing at the notion of a cyclic news network, Ron naturally rounds up his old gang of sports newscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), local field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and daft meteorologist Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell). With direct competition from hotshot news presenter Jack Lime (James Marsden), Burgundy and his anchors are given the graveyard shift and thus resort to lowest common denominator broadcasting techniques in a ratings race, and thus alter the landscape of Western news media forever.
The overt comparisons with conglomerate entity News Corp, its news division Fox News and its all-powerful overlord Rupert Murdoch come hard and fast and are unfortunately the most interesting elements of this Anchorman sequel. Ferrel and writer/director Adam McKay explicitly yet cleverly satirise the bottom feeding necessity of the 24 hour news cycle through sequences that involve Ron Burgundy’s decision to track a local car chase through sheer speculation, Burgundy’s demand for “more graphics” (resulting in a screen of zooming visual stimuli) and even a live, on the air crack smoking “investigation”.
On top of that the owner of their network is a blonde haired, Australian CEO, who in an obvious parody of Murdoch’s conglomerate behaviours seeks to kill stories that directly affect other aspects of his growing empire. It’s a fairly easy target for Ferrell and McKay, but they make it work by filtering the events through the daft aspirations of Burgundy and co., a group totally unaware of their unethical actions. That’s where the butt stops regarding the ingenuity of Anchorman 2, as for the rest of the film’s running time it posits itself as a complete carbon copy of the original film with only ante raised in an attempt to meet the colossal expectation of surpassing the first film.
The spirit of the first Anchorman, and what seemed to turn it from video store peculiarity to cult classic, was its spontaneity and unpredictability. Tied in with the comedy improv structure, the cast and crew bore no weight of anticipation and could take strange risks, punching a surreal notch in the film’s belt. With this second film, shoulders carry quite the burden, with very few of the performers being up to the task. Once again much of the material feels improvised, but the pressure of delivering the perfect line seems to cloud their abilities. This becomes especially true in the moments of insult or showboating which carry an involved effort that erodes any naturalism.
Considering that the entire framework of the film is built upon capitalising on the success of the first film, such a display of theatrics almost can’t be avoided. Brick Tamland, a character whose endearing stupidity was perfectly nuanced via Steve Carrell in the first film is now relegated to complete buffoonery as he screams and laughs his way through almost the entire screenplay. Every now and then he capitalises on his character with an impeccably timed nonsensical line, most of which occur around his new love interest Chani (Kristen Wiig), but they are far and few between.
It isn’t only Brick that feels like a familiar tune turned up to 11, as it seems like every beat in Anchorman 2’s screenplay is built upon the success of the preceding film. Ron’s relationship with his dog Baxter is now replaced with a shark named Doby, Brian’s cologne cupboard now sports his condom collection, Champ Kind’s affection for Ron almost now turns to molestation and even the jazz flute makes a heightened return. The most cringe-worthy of recollections however is the fight sequence, a moment of inspired madness in the first film becomes a hyper display of celebrity pulling power as the crew come up against the largest selection of cameos since, well, pick a Muppet movie.
It seems that the construction of any sequel can go in a number of directions, usually with varying results. In the case of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues the filmmakers have chosen to rest on the laurels of the success of the first film. Rather than seek new experiences for its audience, the film chooses to reward them with recognition, to inaugurate them into the cinematic club of cultural references that are familiar and safe.
Such a route seems harmful to the creative process, but specifically in the context of Anchorman, a series of films that are bubbling with creativity moment to moment, the decision becomes somewhat regressive. This isn’t to suggest that Anchorman 2 isn’t a funny film, as it surely has its moments of inspiration. Outside of these moments though, Anchorman 2 is unfortunately a laborious trek through an all too familiar landscape. One can only hope now that the legend goes no further.