Anchorman 2 ‘falls victim to the law of diminishing returns’ but it’s not all bad, says MacDara Conroy
To paraphrase the immortal Hulk Hogan: Anchormania’s running wild, brother! If it’s not Ron Burgundy’s moustached mug plastered on every bottle of Club Orange, it’s the whole gang arriving for the European premiere in Dublin last week, not to mention a slew of pandering localised bits for TV and radio. Oh, how we Irish love being flattered. But even in bigger markets like the UK it’s been a media blitz like no other. They’re trying so hard – bless their hearts – that you’d have to wonder if they’re afraid this second helping, coming some nine years after the first, might not be up to scratch.
Then again, that was the problem with the original Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – a post-Zoolander exercise in semi-improv silliness that bore so many tangental similarities to that Ben Stiller comedy classic (both absurdist takes on a high concept; both starring Saturday Night Live alumni; both sharing a number of cast members, with situationist cameos galore) it was bound to pale in comparison on first impression. On repeat viewing, however, Anchorman’s unique genius rubs off in the right way – it helps that Will Ferrell, as the titular newscaster, seems to know he works better in small doses; he’s not in the movie nearly as much as you’d think – and today it stands up pretty well alongside Stiller’s masterpiece. The big question here is whether Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues can repeat the magic of its predecessor, and the answer is: sort of?
Ignoring the ‘we’re never gonna make a sequel!’ ending of the first chapter, the new one begins with our hero hitting the big time, co-anchoring the Big Apple’s weekend news with wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate, one of the finest non-comedian comedic actors out there). Circumstances soon conspire to split the couple and send Burgundy into a tailspin, until a knight in shining armour (an unrecognisable Dylan Baker) presents an offer he can’t refuse: a job on a new 24-hour cable news channel. Returning to the big city with the band back together – suave reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), loudmouth sports host Champ Kind (David Koechner) and dim-witted weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) – Burgundy and team have to fight against the odds, whether it’s their dreaded graveyard slot; the network’s preening, perma-tanned lead anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden); or the machinations of their dodgy Aussie media magnate boss (Flight of the Conchords’ Rhys Darby).
Like the first movie, Anchorman 2’s strengths lie in its random, non-sequitur humour; the funniest bits are either improvised (catch Applegate corpsing when Ferrell fires up) or written gags completely superfluous to the plot (Paul Rudd, take a bow for that one). And the chemistry between Ferrell and his cast still charms. But this time round those moments are fewer and further between, as the rambling script – ragged with untamed plot threads – aims for straighter, message-movie territory, like a tepid twist on Network. The first film didn’t have anything to prove, other than maybe fight out of Zoolander’s shadow, but the sequel comes over too forced, and ultimately less sincere. It’s also a lot less quotable (don’t tell me Ferrell’s seeing the “Stay classy” thing as an albatross round his neck) and introduces too many supporting characters – particularly Meagan Good’s fierce but bland producer Linda Jackson, and yes, Ron Burgundy has a son! (No, he’s not in the least bit funny!) – who simply don’t have the chops to hang with the comedy pros. Yet even among those there are disappointments: Kristen Wiig, so good on SNL, seriously half-asses it here as Brick’s female equivalent.
Sad as it is to say, Anchorman 2 falls victim to the law of diminishing returns. Still, part of me wants to reserve a definitive judgement till I’ve seen it at least one more time. There’s always a chance, like the original, that a more satisfyingly funny core will be revealed on second pass. Come back to me after the Blu-ray’s out.