A couple of weeks ago I watched Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery again, and wrote a little in my review about Mike Myers’ dedication to the art of silliness. There aren’t many comic actors that come close to Myers at his daftest, but Will Ferrell has perhaps been the most successful during the past decade. Here, Ferrell is silliness personified, returning to the role of Ron Burgundy ten years after the excellent Anchorman, a film that wasn’t particularly well-received by critics and performed just better than average at the box office, but subsequently gained a huge following after its DVD release.
In the first film, set in the early 1980s, Burgundy – an innocently offensive and egotistical news anchorman from San Diego with a chauvinistic crew in tow – struggles to adapt to the changing times and the appointment of a female news anchor, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), while also battling rival local crews on the city’s streets. Fast forward several years and Burgundy and Corningstone are married, living in New York and working together for a prestigious network. However, their domestic bliss is shattered when station bigwig Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford) promotes Corningstone and fires the unprofessional Burgundy, who leaves his wife and heads back west in a huff.
At his lowest ebb, Ron is offered the chance to join the new network GNN, which is soon to be launched as the world’s first 24 hour rolling news channel. In need of his old team, Ron seeks out sports reporter Champ Kind (David Koechner), weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and chief reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), and together the foursome head back to New York in order to resurrect their news careers.
Part of the appeal of Anchorman for me was the surprise I felt upon first hearing the often-surreal dialogue. It’s a very (tediously!) quotable movie, and how funny you found it probably depends a lot on whether you are amused by grown men exclaiming “By the beard of Zeus!” or saying things like “Sex Panther: 60 percent of the time it works all of the time”. The same silly level of humour is kept up throughout Anchorman 2, with many jokes revisited to please fans and plenty of new ones thrown in.
* The jokes at this point may be old and tired, but I still found it funny. I must be easily pleased.
So that means Brick’s laughs still come from the fact he has a very low IQ, Champ’s laughs come from his utter ignorance as well as his closet love for Ron, while Brian’s laughs largely come as a result of his predatory nature with women. Meanwhile Ron freewheels among them all, mining chuckles while unintentionally offending his new boss Linda Jackson (Meagan Good) and her family on account of their race*, playing jazz flute while ice skating, raising a shark, dealing with temporary blindness and trying to establish himself as the top news anchor in the country once again.
At its funniest, Anchorman 2 is very amusing indeed. A couple of early scenes involving Brick had me in tears, and it’s no surprise that Steve Carell’s role has expanded in tandem with the actor’s profile (a love sub-plot with Kristen Wiig seems a little superfluous, though it has its amusing moments). Ron’s ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time is still rather amusing, but unfortunately some of the repeated jokes fall flat. Where the first film saw Brian uncover a collection of exotic aftershave, Anchorman 2 includes the same joke with condoms; the audience was silent throughout this bit, with only one or two guffaws. Similarly we are treated once again to Ron practicing his pronunciation, mis-reading the teleprompter and making ludicrous exclamations like “By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!”, but the surprise has gone, and it just isn’t quite as funny second time around. The joke about rival news crews meeting on neutral turf to do battle like warring gangs is repeated and also suffers considerably second time round due to its familiarity, and the presence of a huge number of celebrity cameos smacks a little of desperation.
Anchorman 2 has enough original moments of silliness to compensate for the re-heated material, though. Burgundy is still at his best in the newsroom, and the cleverer jokes come when the media is satirised, particularly rolling 24 hour news. Very quickly the station’s meddling Murdoch / Turner-esque owner insists on pulling stories in order to protect his commercial interests and any noble reporting intentions are lost when ratings becomes the focus and the station bosses realise that people are more likely to tune in to watch live car chases and ridiculous proclamations about America’s greatness.
Throwing Ron and his ship of fools into this 24 hour mix is a good move, and the satirical darts actually just about justify a second movie being made, even though it’s all a distant second to the goofing around in terms of importance. While Anchorman 2 isn’t particularly scathing, it does poke fun at news channel practices effectively, and Ferrell even gets a brief scene that recalls Peter Finch’s fantastic ‘I’m mad as hell” rant in Network.
The film runs out of ideas related to the newsroom yet gamely carries on for another thirty minutes, as Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay have a little surreal fun with the character, presumably before he gets pensioned off. The shark / lighthouse sub-plot that takes place towards the end of the movie seems a little odd, even by Ferrell’s standards, but it amused me and it sets the tone for the utterly bizarre flight-of-fancy set piece near the end.
Ferrell is a likeable, expressive comic actor, and I think making people laugh at this material is far harder than it looks. The cinema I was in was packed with teenagers, which might indicate that a lack of maturity is required to fully appreciate the jokes of Anchorman 2, but I am happy to hold my hand up and say I felt sufficiently immature to join in the guffawing. Given the love for the characters that has built up over the past decade it’s nice to see another film appear, but anything else will surely be stretching the joke too far. Anchorman 2 isn’t quite as funny as its predecessor, largely due to the lack of surprise factor this time round, but it certainly has its moments.
Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner
Running Time: 119 minutes