Friday, January 3, 2014

The Cinema File #293: "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" Review

No other film did more to cement Will Ferrell as a bonafide movie star post SNL than the original Anchorman, and in retrospect, it still stands as arguably his best and funniest movie to date. In the wake of Ron Burgundy's first adventure, Ferrell did more than his fair share of phoning it in with less than genius performances in movies like Semi-Pro, Blades Of Glory, and Land of the Lost, often proving that his brilliant improvisational skill is not always capable of completely doing the job of an otherwise funny script. Going back to the well that made him a household name, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues does its best to recapture the magic of San Diego's stupidest news team, and in brief moments almost feels like old times, even if the end result comes off as a bit of a hollow imitation.

Anchorman 2 finds the arrogant perpetually 70's newsman bringing his old gang back together again to restart their careers at the forefront of what will become the next big thing in broadcasting, the first 24 hour news channel. The back together montage is probably the highlight of the film as we see where all the characters from the last movie have been in the years between, selling fried bats, taking photos of cute kittens, and being dead, and the single funniest joke in the entire movie comes just afterwards as the newly reassembled crew realize they can't drive a car with cruise control, though regrettably this moment was ruined by the trailer. Thankfully, Anchorman 2 is not one of those movies that blows all of its funniest moments in the advertising, and even if the best bit was spoiled, there are at least enough laughs per minute to justify the ticket price for anyone who liked the first one.

Perhaps most surprising is how much of Anchorman 2 feels new even despite the familiar setting. Its all the same style of absurdest humor and the characters all fall into their same molds, but for the most part the movie eschews the sort of direct joke re-treads that we've seen all too often in comedy franchises like the Hangover series, and most egregiously, the Austin Power sequels. The commitment to relying on as few self-referential callbacks as possible throughout is commendable, but only makes the finale that much more disappointing, when all the old jokes are unleashed in one orgasmic explosion of shit we've seen before. Without giving too much away, the last fifteen minutes represent the only significant nod to the original movie, and when I say significant, I mean a self-indulgent mess of chaos that only makes sense because it follows the best part of the first Anchorman, only to an even more gratuitous degree.

To its credit, Anchorman 2 seems to have taken its ethos of excess to heart in every aspect of the story, to the extent that you can call it a story at all, and brought a few things to the forefront that I always felt were lacking in the previous installment. The media satire element in particular, confined to knocks on cutesy panda-centric human interest news in the first movie, is central to the new one and takes on the laziness and ratings hungry press of today with a mostly keen sense of what ails them. Unfortunately this comes just short of diagnosing the biggest problem of our news today, ignoring the partisan issues plaguing modern day news networks in favor of the much safer criticism that they're all just craven and shallow. What little is there is welcome, but much like last year's Ferrell effort The Campaign, it comes off as too afraid to single out and alienate anyone but the most obvious targets.

Anchorman 2 feels like a sketch movie tied together by the loosest of connective tissue, less cohesive and direct than its predecessor, but still mostly enjoyable for what it is. Its as if Ferrell and Adam McKay spent the intervening years between movies coming up with five or six different ideas for potential sequels, and when the time came to pick one, they just smashed them all together in a Frankenmovie, hoping that nostalgia and improv would push them through to the end. It mostly works, even if it goes off on a few too many tangents along the way, such as in extended sub plots involving Burgundy going blind or having an elicit affair with his African American boss. With the exception of the ending and perhaps Steve Carrell's brief romance with an autistic Kristen Wiig, it never grates, and even when a joke here or there falls flat, there are always at least two or three good ones coming up after it to make you forgive and forget. Overall, a worthy if flawed successor to the original, with little to disappoint the faithful.
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