There are those who quote daily from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy as if its punch lines were religious ordinance, and there are those puzzled by the comedy’s appeal.
There isn’t much middle ground with Will Ferrell’s nearly decade-old film about a sexist, self-centered San Diego TV anchor in the 1970s and his team of broadcast misfits.
But public opinion of the character has never mattered so much to Ferrell as does his fondness for the role. The comic-actor doesn’t require much to don the Burgundy shtick — the big ties, lawn rake mustache, and his silky albeit often confused vocal delivery. At least Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues provides him a legitimate reason to resurrect the lovable lout other than as Dodge Durango spokesman, in a comedy laden with the expected low-brow humor and stupid gags and some surprisingly savvy satire.
The sequel is set in 1980, a long enough gap between Anchorman movies for Burgundy and his now-wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) to have a 7-year-old son — and to poke fun at a new decade of popular culture.
Their idyllic marriage quickly crumbles, however, when Veronica is hired to be the first female anchor of a TV affiliate in New York and Ron is fired. (Harrison Ford, in a minor part as the corporate executive who does the hiring and firing, is a riot, as are most of the film’s surprise cameos.)
Disheartened and disheveled, the boozy ex-broadcaster hits another personal low as emcee for the dolphin show at SeaWorld San Diego, before he’s canned for hitting on the female trainers, insulting park guests, and threatening to eat the dolphins.
Just as everything seems hopeless, a network producer (Dylan Baker) arrives to offer Burgundy a job to be the late-night anchor for a cable network start-up, GNN (Global Network News), the first 24-hour all-news channel. The concept for an endless news broadcast is so laughable that Burgundy insults the producer hiring him, until he’s offered the opportunity to reunite his old news team from the San Diego TV days: reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), who is now a successful kitten photographer; sports anchor Champ Kind (David Koechner), owner of a fast-food restaurant that serves fried bats sold as chicken (as Champ calls them, “chicken of the cave”); and clueless weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), who is delighted to learn during his eulogy for himself that he is not dead.
If the film sounds like an excuse by Ferrell and Co. to get Burgundy and his pals back on the screen, it is. But there’s more to this comedy than a character reunion, as Ferrell and co-writer Adam McKay, who also returns to direct, drop the caustic pokes at local news broadcasts and take aim at the bigger and easier target of cable news networks.
Their satire isn’t always original — jokes about the shallowness and dumbing down of broadcast journalism, flag-waving patriotism and jingoism run amok as effective ratings-grabbers, even a corporate media empire owned by a rich and power-mad Aussie — but the punch lines land hard and often. That is, until the 90-minute mark, when a self-indulgent third act of character development kicks in, as Burgundy’s charmed life as the station’s top talent and innovator comes crashing down in an ice skating accident that leaves him blind and self-loathing.
Unable to read the news, the now-former anchor is adrift and seeks refuge in a lighthouse, and for 15 minutes or so the film’s brisk pace is reduced to an erratic stagger as he faces his demons, and we wait for the Judd Apatow influence of extended character drama in comedies to wane.
Even when it does, the film never fully regains its comedic balance.
Despite a pause in laughs for inflated emotional tension, Burgundy is again the perfect conduit for Ferrell’s wicked mockery of disturbing media trends — not from decades ago as with the first Anchorman, but in today’s newscasts — echoing much of what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert say each weeknight on Comedy Central.
In a career best defined by eccentric, goofy characters given to improvised fits of rage and uncomfortable moments, Burgundy represents the best of what Ferrell can do on the big screen, a wreck of a newsman written as both laugh-out-loud obnoxious and sly commentary.
What Rudd, Koechner, and Carell’s characters lack in depth, they make up for in reliable side-show humor. Given the trio’s talent at improvising, rarely are there back-to-back gags that fall flat. Applegate, in a smaller role this time, effectively plays it straight to the lunacy, most of it Burgundy’s, with the occasional clever retort of her own.
Some of the film’s gags include the network’s handsome egotistical premiere new anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) and his clash with Burgundy. Megan Good plays Linda Jackson, the network’s no-nonsense news director who initially despises Burgundy, but as his ratings surge, she falls for the anchor.
The sequel’s expanded cast also includes Kristen Wiig as Brick’s equally clueless love interest Chani — Carrell and Wiig’s unscripted one-upmanship is fun to just sit back and watch — and Greg Kinnear as Veronica’s new love interest, whom Burgundy is certain is reading his mind.
Anchorman 2 isn’t a perfect comedy. But in a film year mostly lacking consistent laughs, it might be the best 2013 can offer.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.