Thursday, December 19, 2013


(US - 2013)

Directed by Adam McKay.  Written by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.  Cast: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Dylan Baker, Meagan Good, Harrison Ford, Greg Kinnear, Josh Lawson, Judah Nelson,  Fred Willard, Chris Parnell, June Diane Raphael. (PG-13, 120 mins)

Back in 2004, the $25 million ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY made more than triple its budget but never topped the box office and dropped out of the top five after two weeks.  The film became a modern comedy classic on DVD and cable, where it amassed a devoted cult following when people discovered how consistently hilarious and quotable it is.  Star/co-writer Will Ferrell left SNL two years earlier and had the hits OLD SCHOOL and ELF, but it was ANCHORMAN that would become the defining work of his big-screen career and his partnership with director/co-writer Adam McKay, though I contend that 2010's THE OTHER GUYS is their masterpiece.   It's nearly a decade later, and after what must be the longest, most aggressive, and all-encompassing marketing campaigns in cinema history, ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES arrives just before Ferrell resorted to going door-to-door across America in his Ron Burgundy wardrobe.  With double the budget, probably to accommodate the increased star power and salary requirements of Ferrell and Steve Carell, it's obviously a bigger movie.  And a louder movie.  It's also bombastically self-indulgent as Ferrell and McKay seem to be making it up as they go along.  Nine years ago, they had enough outtakes and abandoned subplots from the first film to assemble the straight-to-DVD spinoff film WAKE UP, RON BURGUNDY.  There's no such restraint here.  Running nearly 30 minutes longer than the first film, Ferrell and McKay gather up seemingly every discarded comedy idea they concocted since the first entry and throw everything against the wall to see what sticks.  Its rapid fire assault of gags might sound ambitious but it comes off as sloppy and desperate, almost like they could be working on a higher level than we're expecting but more likely they're just punking us with an almost Sandlerian level of audience contempt.  There's no doubt the coming weeks will find passionate defenses of the film and you'll see terms like "anarchic," "absurdist," "subversive," "Dadaist", and maybe even, and I can't believe I'm writing this, "Bunuel-ian" tossed about with wild, pretentious abandon as if there's some deeper shit going on, but even as a fan of Ferrell, the first film, and absurdist humor, I found ANCHORMAN 2 to be jaw-droppingly unfunny and a dumpster fire of a movie, the kind of catastrophically awful train wreck where it's not hyperbolic to suggest that it's Ferrell and McKay's GIGLI or THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH. 

Opening in 1980 to the sounds of Christopher Cross' "Ride Like the Wind," the first of countless soft-rock tunes used where simply hearing them is supposed to be the joke, ANCHORMAN 2 finds news anchor Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and wife/co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) relocated to NYC from San Diego, with their six-year-old son Walter (Judah Nelson).  When Veronica is called up to the network by boss Mack Harken (Harrison Ford), who subsequently fires Ron, their marriage falls apart.  After a botched suicide attempt, Ron is contacted by Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker), who's scouting for news personalities for Global News Network, a new 24-hour cable news network bankrolled by Australian billionaire Kench Allenby (Josh Lawson).  Lured by the promise of stardom and seeing it as another chance to do what he was born to do, Ron decides to reassemble his news team: reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell), and sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner).  Saddled with the 2:00-5:00 am graveyard slot, Ron finds a rival in prime-time anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden), and comes up with an idea to give the audience the news they want instead of the news they need.  With his focus on vacuous entertainment stories, cute animals, high-speed chases, debates devolving into shouting matches, and smoking crack on-air, Ron becomes the country's biggest news star and inadvertently brings about the downfall of television news standards.

Those digs at today's cable news--which are obvious and don't really threaten to erase memories of Paddy Chayefsky and NETWORK--are about as thoughtful as ANCHORMAN 2 gets.  Aside from the use of early '80s radio staples, the film constantly utilizes future debacles and scandals as a source of easy, lazy humor ("Sponsored by BP:  Nature's Best Friend," and Brian cites O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, and Robert Blake as his posse who call themselves "The Ladykillers"), and it's funny once or twice, but by the 20th time, it's a little stale.  There's a certain expectation of callbacks and references when you're dealing with a comedy as revered as ANCHORMAN, and that film's first invocations of "Great Odin's Raven!" or "By the beard of Zeus!" were hilarious.  Not so much here, when Ferrell is bellowing nonsense like "By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!"  What?  And I haven't even gotten into an extended subplot where Ron goes blind after a head injury and spends his days in seclusion at a lighthouse and bottle-feeding a shark before freeing it into the open water.  Ron Burgundy was always a pompous chauvinist, but here's he's just a bleating, tone-deaf asshole.  Sometimes, it's as if he's not even playing the same Ron Burgundy from the first film, but rather, an even more cartoonish parody of Ron Burgundy.  Indeed, ANCHORMAN 2 is so scattershot, random, and over-the-top that it makes the comparatively sophisticated ANCHORMAN look like BROADCAST NEWS.  When Ron gets involved with African-American, female boss Linda Jackson (Meagan Good)--this is after he first meets her and can't stop the Tourette's-styled barking of "Black!" at her--he has dinner with her family, where he steers the conversation to the level of her "stank" during sex and throwing out a "Say what?" to her mother.  Has Ferrell even seen the first ANCHORMAN recently?  Does he remember making it?

But that's nothing compared to what's happened to Carell's Brick Tamland.  Carell wasn't a star back in 2004 and was primarily known as a DAILY SHOW correspondent.  In the ensuing decade, he's had considerable success with THE OFFICE and several movies. Brick was a minor character with some funny bits in ANCHORMAN, but now that Carell is arguably as big a star as Ferrell, they probably had to give Brick stuff to do to entice Carell back.  What transpires is nightmarish.  Carell plays Brick not as a low-IQ, amiably naive man-child, but instead like a thousand-yard-staring psychopath prone to shrieking and screaming for no reason.  He gets an endurance test of a subplot where he falls in love with an eccentric, incompetent GNN secretary named Chani (Kristen Wiig), and their endless, laughless scenes play out like bad improv or an exceptionally awful 12:55 am SNL skit where you can almost hear crickets chirping in Studio 8H.  No one's having a good day here--it doesn't help that Rudd and Koechner have almost nothing to do, so they at least emerge from the wreckage largely unscathed--but there's simply too much of this reconceived Brick Tamland in this and Carell turns in what may very well be the worst performance you'll see in a major movie in 2013.

Even by the standards of a Judd Apatow production, there's too much of everything here--except comedy.  I get the "anarchic" spirit the filmmakers might be going for, but when I hear that term, I think of the action in BLAZING SADDLES crashing over into Buddy Bizarre's musical at the end.  Every rambling, overlong sequence in ANCHORMAN 2 plays like something that only the actors think is funny.  You can actually see Carell and Wiig almost breaking during some of their conversations, and I'm sure there's plenty of bloopers with the two of them losing it.  But what's onscreen is just not funny.  It's not even "weird" or "offbeat" funny.  Joke after joke after joke lands with a dead thud.  Did anyone at Paramount actually watch this, or did they just figure they'll get the $50 million back before the toxic word-of-mouth spreads?   Even the expected rival news crews Battle Royale--one of the original film's best scenes--is restaged here with a ridiculous amount of cameos and other out-of-nowhere additions (Brick hoisting a sci-fi ray gun?), but that's it.  Once you see the famous faces and all of Ferrell's buddies who showed up to hang out, there's not really anything else there.  So why not have John C. Reilly play the soul-sucking ghost of Stonewall Jackson or Harrison Ford sprouting fur and turning into a "were-hyena" for no reason?  Sure, it's insane but is it funny?  Ranking somewhere between CADDYSHACK II and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT PART 3 on the comedy sequel scale, ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES is an excruciating Will Ferrell home movie where the legend of Ron Burgundy has gone to die. 

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