Sunday, December 22, 2013

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) – Review

Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is a glorified gag-reel, very funny in moments but without much of a satisfying story. The film finds Ron Burgundy and his wife Veronica Corningstone in New York City reading national network news. However, everything changes when Veronica is promoted to primetime and Ron is fired. Ron cannot handle it and blows up his marriage, retreating back to San Diego where he falls further into a state of despair. After a few months of spiraling anguish, Ron is courted by Freddie Shapp, a news producer charged with finding talent for a new 24-hour news channel Global News Network (GNN). Now, Ron must reunite his news team and reestablish himself as a newsman, in the hopes of winning back his family.

Actor-writer Will Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay made a name for themselves in feature films with Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Thus, it was probably only a matter of time before they eventually found their way back to the character(s). With Anchorman 2, the comedy team has made a film that seems to exploit all the jokes of the first film taking them to the excess, priming fans to gorge themselves. The jokes that resonated the most with fans in the first film have been exaggerated and squeezed for every possible bit of funny still left in them.

The characters too have ballooned. They were already caricatures to some extent, but here they have become parodies of themselves. Everything that fans loved about them has been mined to completion. Yes, a lot of the material is very funny but overall it is just a barrage of comedy with any and every joke being flung at the audience, hoping some will hit (but many miss).

It is almost too much really. The sole purpose of the film seems to be rehashing all the old jokes, while sprinkling in a few new ones, in an effect to play on the nostalgia of fans (while still giving them some new great and memorable lines). To this end, the film is very successful, as ultimately there are many really great jokes and moments that carry the film (really, there are so many jokes and types of jokes that everyone will find at least a few parts and lines very funny).

But as a narrative film, Anchorman 2 is pretty weak. The story seems like an afterthought – nothing more than a mechanism to get from one set of jokes to the next. And while the main purpose of the film is to make fans of the characters and first film laugh again, one might hope that the filmmakers would still consider a sound story and narrative structure a priority (as the first film does have a good story which the jokes are built upon). Yet, that is just not the case. Without a solid foundation, no matter how funny the jokes are, the film just feels like a lessor entity (which is too bad).

Following in the footsteps of The Newsroom (though, not to quite the same extent), Anchorman 2 does do a decent job of shaming the farce that is America’s current news programming. It is not subtle about it either, clearly pointing out how news has become about entertaining rather than informing. It is nice to see that the film has some higher aspirations and social awareness.

All in all, though, Anchorman 2 is still a worthwhile endeavor, even with the somewhat nonexistent plot. The great successes of many of the jokes (winning over the many that fall flat) make the film very entertaining, and probably a film worth returning to many times (much like the first), allowing the jokes to catch the viewer in different ways. And yet, it basically plays as not much more than a gag-reel with very funny people saying and doing anything and everything to get a laugh.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay were atop the comedy world with films like Anchorman, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers, but their recent output has found them wanting. The Other Guys and now Anchorman 2 have prized jokes over story, when their past work managed to find the right balance. Yes, their films continue to be hilarious and entertaining, which to some degree is all one could really want from a comedy, but their weak narratives also leave them feeling a bit like throwaway comedies – films to be laughed at and then forgotten.

Composers Andrew Feltenstein and John Nau, cinematographer Oliver Wood, and production designer Clayton Hartley all do a good job of recreating the world and feel of Anchorman. The look and tone of the film are spot on, but really this film is just about the jokes.

The film is jam-packed with celebrity cameos (to varying degrees of comical success). Of these many cameos, Harrison Ford and especially John C. Reilly turn in very funny moments. Kristen Wiig is funny as Brick’s female counterpart Chani (but really, none of her stuff is among the film’s best). Meagan Good turns in what is probably her best comedic performance to date as Ron’s boss Linda Jackson. Christina Applegate is good again here as Veronica, as she balances her love for Ron and career drive. David Koechner was a bit of a one-note joke as Champ in the first film, and that is mostly true again with Anchorman 2, but his “Whammy!” catchphrase continues to be pretty funny. Paul Rudd has some great moments again, even if Brian Fantana is almost entirely relegated to reworking the same jokes from the first (cologne collection substituted for condom collection – though some of his lines in this bit are hilarious). Steve Carell as Brick is really the breakthrough character of the film, seeing an expanded role. And in this, Carell steals the film with many of the best comedy moments. He is brilliant. Will Ferrell is just so charismatic as Ron Burgundy. Even if he is playing the same jokes over again, it is hard not to watch him with a smile and a chuckle (which often grows to a roar).

Summary & score: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is everything fans could have hoped for comically/nostalgically – playing a bit like a greatest hits album, but as a narrative film it falls short. 6/10

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