Could this sequel to the 2004 laugh riot about a San Diego newsreader and his male-chauvinisic-piggish companions possibly live up to all the hype we’ve endured for the past two months? Will Ferrell has appeared virtually everywhere in the guise of the man who will read only exactly what appears on the teleprompter in front of him. No, not the president of the United States—Ron Burgundy.
Where hasn’t Burgundy been? Real live newscasts in the Midwest. Car commercials. Chat shows. In curial meetings with the pope. At the UN Security Council. On the Space Shuttle. Inside the womb of a celebrated French manufacturer of fine string.The act was wearing thin even before we had a chance to hate the film. So—now that it’s here, how does it measure up? Is it the over-hawked disappointment you and I feared?
In a word: by no means. It is funny as hell, assuming you find the idea of conscious, nerve-bearing beings roasting in their accursed flesh for all eternity choking on their own screams and the stench of the ever-putrefying zombie corpses that weigh them down day and night funny.
I know I do.
It’s 1980. Ron Burgundy and his wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), are a very successful news team in New York City. One day they receive a call to the 50th-ish floor, to speak with the head news honcho, Mack Harken, played by some newcomer named Harrison Ford. “What are you—Finnish?” Harken asks Burgundy, thereby sealing in the cultural vault as memorable a one-liner as “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Turns out Harken wants Veronica to take the new prime-time-news spot. But as for Burgundy, well, he’s just the worst newscaster Harken’s ever seen. And he’s fired.
Given the choice between staying by the side of her humiliated man-husband or taking the job of her dreams, Veronica of course goes for the great gig, and leaves Burgundy engaging in coitus with starfishes at a San Diego sea park.
Until he’s offered a new beginning—the 2-5am slot on some new contraption called “cable news” — 24 hours of nothing but what Ron dreams about. Even though Burgundy thinks the idea of nonstop news the stupidest thing he’s ever heard of, he likes money, and so agrees to go back to New York and rebuild his career.
But first he has to get the band back together. Champ Kind (David Koechner) now makes openly racist commercials selling fried chicken that is 100% bat. Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), aka “The Bri Man,” has made quite a name for himself photographing kittens for kitschy poster art. And Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) is, well, dead. Yes, lost at sea. Until he shows up to deliver a eulogy at his own funeral, in a scene that made me laugh so hard I peed someone else’s pants.
“Brick—you’re not dead!” Ron cries. “You’re standing right there! Touch yourself!”
So the gang heads to GNN — a mashup of CNN, FOX, and Virgin Airlines. (I don’t get it either.) The star of the prime-time hour is some pretty boy named Jack Lime (James Marsden) who reduces Burgundy to a quivering mound of kiss-ass within minutes. But even the improvisationally challenged Burgundy refuses to let some punk humiliate him before his new colleagues and so challenges Lime to a bet: His team of newscasters will get higher ratings than will Lime. (Did I mention that Burgundy & Co. have the 2am slot?) If Lime wins, Burgundy leaves New York and TV journalism forever. If Ron wins, Lime has to legally change his name to Lame.
How on earth are our heroes going to pull this off? By giving the audience not what they need to see, but what they want to see. America the beautiful and exceptional. Sports highlights with commentary that consists solely of Champ yelling, “WHAMMY!” Fantana’s top 100 vaginas list. Wind. And what proves to be not only the ratings winner for Burgundy but also the turning point for all television news: car chases.
And thus the stultifying dumbification of news is born.
Along the way, Ron’s immediate boss, Linda Jackson (Meagan Good), a beautiful high-energy exec that’s a cross between Diana Ross, Oprah Winfrey, and Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS, has gone from utter contempt for Ron’s “act” to being quite turned on by his newfound ratings power. (The “relationship” between Linda and Ron is by far the weakest part of the film. Ron’s having to catch up with diversity in the workplace is not as nearly as funny as his having to put up with women’s menstrual cycles attracting bears, although his and Jackson’s first roll in the hay is accompanied by quick flashes of what passes for progress in interracial harmony: Jackie Robinson, Capt. Kirk kissing Lt. Uhura, and of course the tipping point of African-American societal equality, Diff’rent Strokes.)
And while Ron’s complete wimpishness in the face of Jackson’s take-what-she-wants ferocity wears thin quickly, the relationship between Brick and Chani (Kristin Wiig) is worth the price of admission all by itself. It is love at first sight between these two utter morons.
“I can always guess how many jelly beans are in a jelly bean jar, even if I’m wrong,” Brick says in a heartbreaking but surprisingly successful attempt to woo Chani, who is known for mailing phone messages to her boss rather than just handing them to her. Dinner out for the two lovebirds consists of standing next to a soda machine and letting the empty cans pile up. While both appear to be pretty innocent in the love department, both have experienced the sweet sensation of a kiss before, Brick with his Dr. Zaius Planet of the Apes action figure and Chani in a dream with a woman whose hair was on fire. Precious moments. And riotously funny.
Replacing Ron Burgundy’s pagan-referencing ejaculations (“Great Odin’s raven!”) are now the late-70s/early 80s celebrity-themed “By the hymen of Olivia Newton John!” and something about Gene Rayburn’s bedpan.
A little forced, those…
Nevertheless, I heartily enjoyed Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and got my $97 worth of giggles and even guffaws. In fact, there were scenes where I laughed like an oncologist. Director Adam McKay and cowriter Will Farrell’s take on cable news—as mere pap as opposed to what it should be by the writers’ lights, a medium that keeps an eye on the powerful—doesn’t quite ring true, at least not anymore. If cable news is known for anything now it’s identity politics and generating controversy out of personal grudges. Oh, and assuming satire news sites are reporting real news…
As the film wound down, I missed those Anchorman I interludes consisting of street-gang fights between rival news teams. But as soon as that thought ran through my head, I was treated to the mother of all newscaster showdowns. The sheer number of A-list stars who pop up in this over-the-top conflagration would be enough to bust any budget. But when the ghost of Stonewall Jackson appeared — in the middle of Madison Square Park on 23rd Street in Manhattan, no less — well, I left that theater as satisfied as Guy Fieri at a Fatburger garage sale.
So Anchorman 2 both delivers the yucks (even if the absurdism is caked on with a shovel) and serves as a time capsule, with its almost documentary-quality take on turn-of-the-decade race relations, corporate-sponsored “journalism,” and the perils of making Brick the man-child cry. Is it the greatest film ever made? Possibly. Not as surprisingly delightful as its predecessor but certainly better than Gone with the Wind and The Hottie and the Nottie.
In other words, if you loved the first film, you’ll at least like this one as much as Brick likes reminiscing about the future.