Thursday, December 26, 2013

ANCHORMAN 2 Is I'm Ron Bergundy?


- I remember being skeptical going into the first Anchorman. Up until then, I was only mildly a fan of Will Ferrell, and hadn't loved the sorts of cheap-laugh fratboy antics he'd become known for in movies like Old School. But Anchorman - which teamed Ferrell with SNL writer Adam McKay - brought Ferrell back to the style of comedy that had resulted in his funniest moments on Saturday Night Live: big, weird, crazy, out-there. Anchorman was so funny because it dared to ditch frat humor for absurdist humor - lampooning 70's-era alpha-male bravado while also not being afraid to throw in randomness like talking dogs and ultra-violent gang fights between rival teams of newsmen. Anchorman won me over, and it opened up the door for further hilarious Ferrell-McKay collaborations like Talladega Nights and Step Brothers. Suddenly, Anchorman - a movie that felt like Ferrell and McKay were getting away with something - became the template for more, increasingly absurdist comedies. I suspect that the success of Anchorman also opened up the door for guys like Seth Rogen and Adam Goldberg, David Wain, and others to do more over-the-top comedies at big studios, like This Is The End and Role Models. Sort of awesome, in my opinion. But funny in that Anchorman 2, a movie that its studio didn't even want to fund for many years, ended up becoming one of the most hyped and hotly-anticipated comedy sequels of all time. Weird, random humor becoming the norm? I'm okay with that.

So how is ANCHORMAN 2? It's funny - really funny. And it goes even bigger and broader than Part 1, with numerous bits that are very random and oddball and out there. The crack team of comic actors from Part 1 - Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, and Christina Applegate - are all back, and in fine form. And when you've got such a talented line-up of comedians, it's hard to go wrong. Carell, as loony weatherman Brick, gets a lot of big moments in this one, including a hilariously insane romance with an equally loony Kristin Wiig. Other notables joining the cast include Meagan Goode as Ron Bergundy's tough-customer new boss, and James Marsden as a slick rival reporter.

Interestingly, just as the first Anchorman tried to tell a story that was sort of socially relevant to its period setting (where Applegate's Veronica Corningstone caused upheaval at the local news station by being its first female anchor), so too does the sequel try to place Ron Bergundy and co. in the context of history. This time, it's 1980, and 24 hour cable news emerges as a competitor to the networks. After getting fired by his boss at the network - passed over for a promotion in favor of Veronica - a distraught Ron gets a second chance, when he's offered a shot at being a cable news anchor. Ron gets his old team back together, and they beat the odds and rack up ratings by inventing the sorts of schlock-tactic "news" coverage (car chases, for one) that is commonplace today.

Where ANCHORMAN 2 hurts itself is by trying to do too much at once. I feel like Ferrell and McKay are trying to have their cake and eat it too, by indulging in both a lot of media satire and social commentary-comedy, yet still taking extended side-trips into the wacky and absurd. We go from scenes that take not-so-subtle jabs at today's 24-hour news cycle, to scenes where Ron Burgundy nurses a wounded baby shark back to health and sings a song about it. There's interoffice rivalry with James Marsden's character, and romantic rivalry, with Veronica taking up with a new man (an on-point Greg Kinnear) following a falling-out with Ron, and Ron taking up with his new boss, Linda. The result is a long and at times rambling comedy that tries to do a LOT, without necessarily having a single through-line to tie it all together. By the time the movie ends, you start to wonder what the movie was actually *about* to begin with.

And that's not to say that it had to be about anything. But McKay and Ferrell, as mentioned, squeeze in a ton of plot. Not content to *just* be a riff on the modern era of news, this film packs everything and the kitchen sink into its two hour runtime. This means that when scenes don't elicit big laughs, they tend to really bomb, because they're often disconnected from the rest of the story. One example: when the movie plays the race card and has Ron attend an awkward dinner with Linda's African-American family, the jokes are more cringe-worthy than laugh-worthy. And the fact that the scene mostly bombs, combined with how tangential it is to the main plot, makes you wonder why it didn't get chopped in the editing room.

That said, when the jokes work, they often work big. From Carell and Wiig's oddball pairing, to a gang-fight scene that rivals the first movie's for sheer audacity and shock-value (and in terms of applause-worthy cameos), the movie gets more than enough belly laughs to make it a worthwhile watch. I'm a fan of the random stuff, so I didn't mind the film indulging in it. Honestly, I think Ferrell and McKay are funnier when they're going broad than when they try to do satire. And to that end, I have mixed feelings about, but ultimately support, the extended sequence in which Ron Bergundy goes blind, and becomes a lighthouse-dwelling hermit. On one hand, it comes so late in the movie that part of you thinks "really? they're doing this *now*?". And yet, the funniest moments of the whole film, I think, come as Ron struggles to adjust to being blind in the most hilariously misguided fashion imaginable. The whole thing comes off as an extended SNL sketch randomly thown into the middle of an Anchorman movie. And yet, it's hilarious, so it's hard to find fault. I guess you sort of wish Ferrell and McKay could just ditch narrative altogether and do a longform sketch film or something. As is, Anchorman 2 zips back and forth between its various plotlines and numerous divergent bits of randomness. So yes, there's a lot of funny packed in, but there's also a feeling that the movie is a bit overstuffed.

If you dug the first Anchorman, as I did, you can't go wrong in checking out its sequel. It's a funny flick, and I was laughing pretty consistently throughout. If there's to be a third though, I think that it'd wise to go back and re-tool the formula before things go too off the rails. I love seeing movies where it feels like people are getting away with something, but sometimes, more does not always equal better. One equation that does still very much hold up, however, is that Ferrell + McKay = funny. I'm glad that they are out there making weird $#%& like Anchorman.

My Grade: B+

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