Wednesday, December 18, 2013

ANCHORMAN 2: Enough Laughs For Fans Of The First One

Opening today at a multiplex near you:


(Dir. Adam McKay, 2013)

Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell, David Koetchner, and Steve Carrell decide while on one of their trademark strutts to get perms! That's funny, right?

Of course, you know from all the heavy publicity that it’s kind of a big deal that ‘70s broadcaster Ron Burgundy is back with the rest of the San Diego Channel 4 news team in this sequel to the 2004 comedy hit ANCHORMAN.

Will Ferrell, clad in his character’s signature burgundy three-piece suit, gathers his comedy buddies Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner together again to bring the retro-fitted funny, and for the most part they get the laughs they’re going for.

It’s just that I wish they, by way of Ferrell and director/co-writer Adam McKay’s sketchy screenplay, were going for more in terms of story, satire, and real comic invention. I mean, they pile on the jokes, most of which are over-the-top one-liners, but the narrative concerning the dawning era of 24-hour news cycles is seriously under developed.

It’s now the ‘80s and Ferrell’s Burgundy is all washed up working as an announcer at SeaWorld after losing his coveted co-anchor job, and having divorced his wife (the also returning Christina Applegate) because she was promoted to the nightly news desk. But his pathetic predicament doesn’t last long because Dylan Baker comes calling to recruit Ron for a position in New York at the new basic cable channel upstart, GNN (Global News Network).

A sequence that resembles the “getting the gang back together” sequence in THE MUPPETS (the 2011 reboot) follows with Ferrell driving around in an RV plucking Koechner from his fast food franchise that serves bats disguised as fried chicken (he claims that an unspecified “they” calls them “chicken of the cave”), Rudd from his somehow sexy photographer gig for Cat Fancy magazine, and Carrell back from the dead, or rather for mistakenly thinking he’s dead as he’s found eulogizing himself at his own funeral.

So far so funny, but the movie’s premise never goes up from there even when introducing a new rival in the form of the intimidatingly handsome Jack Lime (James Marsden), who’s GNN’s star primetime anchor, while Burgandy and his bunch are stuck in the 2-5 am graveyard shift.

In one of his trademark fits of idiocy, Burgandy makes a bet with Lime that if his slot doesn’t get higher ratings he’ll quit the business, but if Lime loses he’ll have to legally change his name to “Lame.” This is, at least, a plot point, but one that doesn’t pay off – it sort of fades into the fussy framework. As does a later strand in which our hero goes blind from a skating injury (he was sabotaged by Marsden) and goes off to live in a lighthouse, one of several places in this 119 minute movie that the jokes fall flat and the laughs taper off.

A sharp as a tack Meagan Good as the boys’ new African American boss gives the film the chance to comment on ‘80s-era racism in the workplace, but, much like the first one’s take on sexism, it just skirts the silly surface on the topic – Ferrell not being able to stop saying the word “black” when first meeting Good is a telling indicator of the level here.

Another new addition to the cast, Kristen Wiig, as Carrell’s frizzy-haired dim-witted love interest is way underutilized, and they really didn’t have any reason to have Harrison Ford (gruff as usual) on board as a network bigwig except that Ferrell and McKay thought ‘why not?’

Still, ANCHORMAN 2 largely stays classy and has laughs a plenty even when it shamelessly trots out re-dos of bits like the epic newscaster battle scene stuffed with surprise cameos (I’m not spoiling!), and another crazy showcasing of Ron’s jazz flute skills. These bits worked before, so again, why not refry them and serve them up again?

Fans of the first one should find enough quotable lines (one of my favorites: “Who the hell is Julius Caesar? I don't follow the NBA!”), enough goofy sight gags, and enough in-your-face absurdity for the sake of in-your-face absurdity to satisfy them, but folks who aren’t into Ferrell ‘n friends’ brand of crude PG-13 boundary pushing comedy should stay home in droves.

More later...

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