I’m not sure why exactly I did it, but I missed seeing ANCHORMAN at the cinema back in the year of our Ford 2004. I have several theories for this. I have no business being a film critic! No, that’s not it. I was too busy taking my young ‘un to fare like THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE. Maybe, but wasn’t ANCHORMAN a summer release? I wasn’t that into Will Ferrell. After all, who saw A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY? Where is Chris Kattan now? Am I completely out of touch? Only if ‘touch’ is an aftershave for men! (I have not yet seen aftershave for the ladies, but who opens a conversation by saying ‘your legs smell exquisite’?)
I look back at the films I saw in September 2004 – THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (remake), OPEN WATER, HAROLD AND KUMAR GET THE MUNCHIES, AE FOND KISS, KONTROLL, SLEEPOVER – a blooming Alexa Vega comedy for kiddies, for Rodriguez’s sake – and I think ‘was I mad?’ Then I get to 1 October 2004 and it reads ANATOMY OF HELL (director: Catherine Breillat) and I conclude ‘yup’.
So missed it! But just because I didn’t see the original, it doesn’t mean I can’t opine on the long overdue, surely-they-must-be-desperate, no-seriously-are-you-for-real follow-up. I mean, I haven’t seen THE HUNGER GAMES before watching that opportunistic cash-in sequel CATCHING FIRE. (You mean it’s based on a book – sorry.) I didn’t compare THE COLOUR OF MONEY to THE HUSTLER mainly because comparing a Scorsese movie to a gentleman’s magazine seems, well, wrong. You wouldn’t catch me comparing BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO to BREAKIN’.
So ANCHORMAN or to refer to it by its full title ANCHORMAN – THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY was some kind of cult hit. It is to twenty-somethings what THE BLUES BROTHERS was to my generation, with news crew fights instead of car chases, and cameos from Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn rather than from Frank Oz and Steven Spielberg, not to mention from all those Blues musicians and the late great John Candy. It is a star vehicle for Will Ferrell, who was inspired by footage of newscasters from the 1970s, serious looking men in smart suits and unwavering tones who might just ... pause to make a point.
Ferrell and director Adam McKay hooked up with their man Judd Apatow and offered meaty supporting roles to Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Steve Carell, who was on the verge of losing his 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN-ity and the rest is cinema history. But you know that already, right?
Ron Burgundy is a misogynist oaf who in the first movie is threatened by a female newscaster (Christina Applegate). They end up getting married. In the sequel, they have a young son, who has inherited Ron’s musical genes – seriously, press the left butt check and it plays MULL OF KINTYRE. I mean the young boy can play the piano. He also manufactures a fully functioning model of a volcano. But at the start of ANCHORMAN 2, Ron loses his job, fired by Harrison Ford for all of his on-screen screw ups. What took Ford so long? Well, he doesn’t have much of a career post-CRYSTAL SKULL, stumbling between 42, ENDER’S GAME, EXPENDABLES 3, for freak’s sake, coming next summer, so why not sign up for this? Ron makes his wife choose between him and her career and she chooses hope and later on a psychoanalyst (Greg Kinnear). ‘Stop reading my mind,’ Ron tells him when they meet.
Cut to six months later, which as far as I’m concerned, should be replaced by a caption card stating ‘obligatory lapse of time’ and Ron is working at a Seaworld type place, flirting with the dolphin trainers and losing his rag in front of a packed arena. (If you’ve seen his rag, call 555-Burgundy.) He’s a drunken loser given a Second Chance. Of course, he’s given a second chance, that’s why it’s a sequel. He is invited to work for a 24 hour News Channel. For this, he has to get the team back together. He finds sportscaster Champ Kind (Koechner) running a chicken restaurant that serves ‘chickens of the cave’. Co-anchor Brian Fantana (Rudd) photographs cats and weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell) is dead, well, sort of – he speaks at his own funeral.
So far, so moderately entertaining: I enjoyed the deadpan reference to British Petroleum being a friend to the environment as much as I like jokes about the next easy target. Then the team gets to New York (after a bus joke falls foul of some unconvincing slow-motion CGI) and the comedy energy sags. Burgundy falls foul of star anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) and arranges a wager. If Ron and his team can top Jack’s ratings, the latter will have to change his name to Jack Lame. The only problem is that Ron and his team have the 2:00am to 5:00am ‘graveyard’ slot.
So what do you do if you’re in the graveyard? You start bigging up America. ‘Tell ‘em what they want to hear.’ So there are cute animal segments, ‘whammy’ sports montages and puff pieces. Deviating from the script, Ron is fired, but when his numbers spike (jargon for being written in an archaic font) he is re-hired and given a better slot. His nemesis gets a new name and Ron starts dating his African-American female boss (Meagan Good).
The film veers towards bad taste, but the problem with a film that is as heavily-trailered as this one is that you’ve already seen all of the best bits. What you haven’t seen are the plot points which are spelt out to us by Voiceover Man, for example 24 hour news coming into its own with live transmissions of car chases narrated by the news anchors. Surprisingly, Ferrell and McKay don’t turn this into a terrific joke – they are better with throwaway lines, such as Brian revealing that he hangs out with O J Simpson, Phil Spector and Robert Blake – ‘they call us the ladykillers’. Instead, the film becomes a set of crib notes for a nine year old writing an essay on the development of rolling news. Kids might thank Ferrell and McKay for the extra credit, but we oldies just roll our eyes. I did like the line about Yasser Arafat wanting to watch the car chase too, but it isn’t exactly a belly laugh.
An ANCHORMAN film doesn’t deserve the name if it doesn’t involve Brick holding a random weapon and a shed load of celebrity cameos. How many you ask? It is easier to say who ISN’T in it:
- Steve Martin
- Larry the Cable Guy
- The Muppets
- Al Pacino
- The cast of JERSEY SHORE (who must be regretting their appearance in THE THREE STOOGES)
There are cameos and there are jokes. These are not the same thing. Ferrell, Apatow and McKay, please note.
ANCHORMAN 2 features a sub-plot of such unfunny, toe-curling, toilet break, send a text message tedium that you conclude that it must be its raison d’être. And I don’t even speak Greek. Brick falls in love with a hopeless secretary (Kriosten Wiig). She doesn’t just take messages – she puts them in the mail. (‘How else was I to get them to you?’ she asks her boss.) Actually, that’s the best joke. The rest of it is torture.
I am reliably informed that Ron’s dog Baxter tackles a bear in the first movie. This time, it’s a shark. ‘I’ll have to re-think this relationship’ says a sub-title. You and I both!
So ANCHORMAN 2 is moderately funny, if you don’t mind a sub-plot in which Ron loses one of his senses (not his humour – that’s already gone). It isn’t the instant classic that I was hoping for. My expectations were too high but then it features Harrison Ford – has anybody seen PARANOIA?
Reviewed at Cineworld Screen 1, Shaftesbury Avenue, 20:00 screening on Thursday 19 December 2013, a stone’s throw away from the Apollo Theatre, whose roof caved in whilst I watched the movie, injuring over 70 people. I assure you – I didn’t throw that stone.