“I can always guess how many jelly beans are in a jelly bean jar, even if I’m wrong.”
Oh man, where to start.
When director Adam McKay made Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy almost a decade ago, he shot so much footage he was able to splice the remaining bits together to create a second movie — Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie — which was featured as an extra on the special edition blu-ray release of the film.
And in press interviews for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, it was revealed that McKay, yet again, shot enough material to put together a second film comprised of the unused footage. Unfortunately, it seems no one told McKay he’s supposed to release the actual film first and the alternate film second, as the movie he’s given us feels like leftovers. It’s funnier than it is good, which isn’t to say it’s terrible, but it left me indifferent.
The movie lets us in on the career of Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) in the 1980s, giving us the story of the first 24-hour news station, where Ron is joined by former Channel 4 members Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), and Champ Kind (David Koechner). Instead of providing the news only at primetime, the network runs all day, every day, and Ron and his team decide to give the public what they want instead of what they need: that means entertainment news, excessive sports highlights, and fluff pieces instead of current events and hard-hitting investigative pieces.
In telling this story, McKay and company seek to mock the incessant and unimportant news coverage we typically see spattered across television stations and the internet today, and it actually works as satire until you realize the film itself, particularly in its second half, really isn’t much more than a number of loosely connected vignettes, whose aim is to give us momentary entertainment without genuine substance. These antics are funny at times, sure, but they completely undermine the satire that was once at work; there was serious promise here, and then it fell by the wayside.
The story is all over the board and immensely unfocused, even when compared to its loosely plotted predecessor. It’s silly from start to finish — again, like its predecessor — but it is never able to fully gather the momentum it builds and move full-steam ahead without getting in its own way.
A big thing in the world of marketing and business is what is called conversion rate: how many people who click to your website become paying customers, or how many who see your billboard will give you a call? And this is the biggest problem I found with Anchorman 2: some of its jokes hit their mark, but the conversion rate of its jokes isn’t very good. There are many laughs to be had, but not because every joke is funny; rather, so many jokes are flying around that something must eventually stick. It’s as if McKay, Ferrell, and the rest of the Channel 4 troupe got together and threw as many darts as they could at the board knowing something would eventually hit the bullseye.
I won’t say I wasn’t entertained as I watched Anchorman 2. For all its silliness, the comedy sequel contains some hearty laughs, and even some genuine satire, but it seems McKay, Ferrell, and the gang couldn’t help but retread on the material they mined for this film’s predecessor. Moreover, it’s funny not because it lands so many of its punchlines, but because it tells so many jokes that some of them had to find their target.
All that aside, I should at least note that two scenes stand out as ones that really made me laugh: the first, the scene where Brick is doing the weather on St. Patrick’s day wearing green pants, looks at the screen, and is aghast because he can’t see his legs; and the second, the end fight scene, reminiscent of the one in the first film but bigger, more outrageous, and as it goes, funnier. Also, the scene near the beginning where the Channel 4 team attends Brick’s funeral only to discover he is actually alive and providing his own eulogy; that one’s pretty solid too.
The film often gets in its own way, and at the end of the day, Anchorman 2 doesn’t amount to much more than a couple belly laughs, a heap of chuckles, and more than it’s share of groans, but I suppose that’s what I should have expected. It’s early promise fades fast, but the wind isn’t completely removed from its sails. Just mostly.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Grade: ★★ out of ★★★★★
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence
Runtime: 115 minutes