“…And who is Julius Caesar?! You know I don’t follow the NBA.”
Man, it feels good to be back.
I can make a case for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy being my favorite comedy. There was always an allure about it and it gained a nostalgic value in the near-decade since its original release that I found myself returning to its immature, boyish, toilet-humor charm time and time again. I saw it originally in theaters, within weeks of its initial release, based on a single recommendation. I took a friend of mine on a date to see it, not knowing at all what kind of humor the two of us were in for. Needless to say we were grasping for air in between all of the now-classic sight gags and one liners, like Brick scooping mayonnaise into the toaster with a spatula, Ron being “so unprepared” to play jazz flute, Ron and Veronica’s trip to ‘Pleasuretown,’ the cameo-filled Anchorman gang fight, “Go fuck yourself, San Diego,” and Ron’s loud conclusion that milk was definitively, and without question, a bad choice. I was never more thankful that another person, especially a girl, possessed a similar sense of humor like me than when I first saw Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
It was a hard sell, when you really think about it. A period comedy about a hot-shot anchorman who has never even heard the phrase ‘politically correct.’ Surrounded by his small entourage of fellow newsmen who scoffed at female independence, fought the necessity to act like adults, and were widely acclaimed for their anchoring skills even though they were pretty dreadful at their jobs. It had potential, for sure, but the risk laid more in the talent involved than the concept itself. A first time director, along with a no-name producer by the name of Judd Apatow, concocted a motley crew of small time comics led by a recent SNL departure Will Ferrell may have seemed familiar to those regular watchers on late Saturday nights, but I would be surprised if anyone knew David Koechner, Steve Carell, or Paul Rudd by name in 2003. The biggest heft in the movie came from its bit players, like Fred Willard, Vince Vaughn, and single-sceners Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and Tim Robbins, all of whom contained more star power than the four leads combined. For the original Anchorman to have been any kind of hit would have been a success, and while it earned some strong numbers when it was released, the past ten years, arguably, haven’t been kinder to any other movie from the early naughts. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has become a true comedy classic, the earliest showcase of Will Ferrell’s immortal comic talent. But even then, can a graceful ten years welcome a worthy sequel? If Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was risky in 2003, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues ups the risk factor ten fold in 2013.
With the 1970s on their way out, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), are faced with an ultimatum, or rather Ron turns a losing situation into an ultimatum for Veronica. Having co-hosted the World News together for the past couple of years, Veronica has been deemed eligible for promotion to the Nightly News while Ron has been sacked. Unfortunately, Ron believes that by Veronica taking the job she’s walking out on him, so six months later we pick up with Ron now hosting dolphin shows at Sea World, voicing his sad internal thoughts to tons of impressionable youths while under the influence of his beloved Scotch. But fate has not given up on Ron yet, for in comes Freddy (Dylan Baker), a producer for an upcoming news channel, Global News Network, which will be pioneering a twenty-four news system. Ron reluctantly agrees to return to journalism, but only if he can choose his news team, thus reuniting San Diego’s famed Channel 4 News Team. Upon arriving in New York, Burgundy and Co. are handed the graveyard news shift – 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. – and become a punching bag for GNN’s lead anchor, Jack Lime (James Marsden). However, leading into their first evening broadcast, Ron decides that America deserves the news that it wants as opposed to the news that it needs. Energetic, patriotic, funny, and boldly informative broadcasting is the mantra by which Ron and his team will report the news and whether or not it will succeed will influence the history of broadcast journalism forever.
I know we’re a couple of days late here with the review for the Anchorman sequel, but I had to give myself an opportunity to give it a second look, to affirm my opinions from the first go-round. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues has a lot to live up to, and the film’s biggest strength is that it understands the impossibility of topping its predecessor. Therefore, Anchorman 2’s intention is to reunite, both actors and viewers, and lead them down a hilarious journey that does right by the original’s presets, appropriately upping the ante when it can and where it sees fit, but never looking to completely recycle or one-up what came before it. This becomes clear early on, when the irreverence begins before the one-minute mark. The sequel is off and running from the word ‘Go’ and doesn’t let up until the credits roll, its energy is breathless and its humor relentless – if one punch line doesn’t tear laughs out of you, there will be another one in less than ten seconds. There’s even less to be taken seriously this time, less to be concerned with or to mine out from beneath the surface. This is mainstream comedy at its most nostalgic, immediately thrusting every twenty-something back into their early teens, happily revisiting this one-of-a-kind impudent humor just as all of these actors are surely thrilled to embody these brazen characters once again.
Granted, there’s something inherently less structured or plot-driven about the sequel. For all of its cartoon-like sensibilities, the first Anchorman did possess a plot of sorts, poking at timely themes about women in the workplace and inner-office relationships. The dynamic between Christina Applegate and Will Ferrell was theatricalized and wonderfully saucy – his nonchalant rudeness coupled with her bitter ferocity – while Ron’s jealous friends also shared wise advice, foreseeing the relationship to nip at Ron’s ego and eventual shatter his career. In Anchorman 2, the plot is far more episodic, like a series of sketches involving these old characters and some new ones. Sure, the ideas of news manipulation, synergy between corporate conglomerates, and interracial romance all make appearances, but the sequel less assures their thematic bite than it does push forth several comic volleys amongst its huge cast about said issues. Some great segments involve introductions, like the Channel 4 News Team’s first meeting with their new boss, Linda Jackson (Megan Goode). It’s a replay of the ‘mole’ joke from Goldmember but with the word ‘black’ instead. Also, the film’s best running gag is the cute, anti-sexual bonding between Brick (Steve Carell) and secretary Chonnie (Kristin Wiig), who share romantic sentiments so tenderly strange I found myself clutching my stomach from laughter on both viewing occasions. In fact, Carell, who was a standout as Brick in the original Anchorman, is arguably at an all time funny in the sequel, more than earning his second billing in the credits.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was an instrumental component of my adolescence. So unapologetically disrespectful, crude, and tip-toeing on the edge on PG-13 ok’ness that I thought I may have misread the MPAA rating. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues does a similar balancing act, even though in this liberal rating age it could have been given a PG rating and it wouldn’t have surprised me. Still, The Legend Continues deserves a huge applause for still maintaining the Anchorman ‘integrity’ and not trying to shape itself or manipulate its humor to strike the new age, this is the same kind of Anchorman absurdity that wowed me ten years ago but with an even wilder sense of unpredictability. Bottom line, the craziest thing that went down in the original Anchorman would be the least craziest thing to happen in the sequel. My case and point leans toward a climactic sequence that takes place in Central Park, one of the few fantastic callbacks to the original film, and it embraces a ridiculousness so rip-roaring it maintains the honor of being one of my favorite scenes of the year.
Anchorman 2: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is a cinematic treat. A response to years of demand, with 365 days of relentless promotion, resulting in a holiday gift that every millennial like myself should receive happily, like a bottle of age-old scotch. It’s a good time at the movies, for all of us, the four leads, and the mile long list of cameos that pop up throughout the film. The sequel’s goal is to abide by its title, and in that regard, the legend most definitely does continue…and yes, there is jazz flute.
Review by Mike Murphy