Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

December 21, 2013
Will Ferrell in 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues' 2013
Will Ferrell in 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues' 2013

It has been a whopping nine years since Will Ferrell starred in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). This is an eternity compared to the speed with which Hollywood usually serves up sequels, although the delay may simply be due to the huge volume of film and TV work the hyperactive Ferrell has undertaken over the past nine years. It was only a matter of time, because Burgundy is a character who was always too big to be confined to a single movie.

Adam McKay’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is a shamelessly formulaic follow-up that features the same cast of dysfunctional newshounds, and possibly the greatest number of star cameos ever committed to a single movie. Most of them appear in a fight sequence towards the end, but one would have to pause the film to identify everyone.

This is, of course, a reprise of the fight sequence from the first Anchorman – one of many touches of déjà vu. If one can cut through the continuous barrage of gags the overarching theme is the changing nature of broadcast news, as it morphs into info-tainment in a desperate effort to snare ratings. Now we know we can blame Ron Burgundy rather than Rupert Murdoch, although it may not be coincidental that the wealthy businessman behind Ron’s new station happens to be Australian.

The first Anchorman was set in San Diego, but the sequel takes us to New York, where Ron and his former rival, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), are married and reading the news together. This arrangement falls apart when network boss (Harrison Ford), singles out Veronica for a promotion and Ron for the sack. We watch as the former star’s marriage and career go into a tailspin. At the very nadir of his fortunes he is rescued when he gets the chance to front a new Global News Network (GNN).

Ron’s first thought is to re-unite his former team from San Diego: Brian Fantana the roving reporter (Paul Rudd); sportcaster, Champ Kind (David Koechner); and weatherman, Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). What’s truly frightening is that these sidekicks are only slight exaggerations of the kind of characters one sees on American news programs. One has to be pretty wacky to be a TV weatherman nowadays, so Brick is obliged to be weirder than anyone. In this film he is given an equally weird girlfriend in Chandi (Kristen Wiig), but this is probably the weakest link in this relentless comic onslaught.

There is a villain, in the shape of rival anchorman, Jack Lime (James Marsden); and a beautiful woman who falls for Ron’s ineffable appeal. This role belongs to Meagan Good, as station manager, Linda Jackson. The fact that she’s black allows for a lot of predictable race-based comedy that still manages to be funny.

Anchorman 2 goes even further over-the-top than its predecessor, with a stream of ridiculous scenarios that never lets up for a minute, although it’s one long series of snickers rather than side-splitting hilarity. The main satirical thrust is aimed at those so-called news programs that consist of patriotic claptrap, car chases, celebrities, sex, drugs and funny animal stories. Ron Burgundy is revealed as the mastermind who came up with this winning formula, arguing that news programs should give people what they want, not what they need.

It’s no revelation that most viewers would sooner watch a car chase than an interview with Yasser Arafat, but it takes someone with Ron’s instinctive feeling for the lowest common denominator to overcome the ingrained habits of the newsroom. Anchorman 2 bears out Gogol’s observation: “the longer and more carefully we look at a funny story, the sadder it becomes.” The progressive deterioration of news into low-grade entertainment can be winessed every day of the week on TV and radio, in newspapers and on websites. As the news gets more and more frivolous it drags down the public threshold of expectation. The result is a complacent society with zero tolerance for political complexity, bored by anything but a funny animal story or a sex crime. It’s ironic that it takes another piece of low-grade entertainment to turn such a confronting mirror on public taste.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
USA, rated M
119 mins
Directed by Adam McKay; written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay; starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Meagan Good, Harrison Ford

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 21 December, 2013.