It’s surely the most trailered and hyped-up release of the season. There were few places to turn where Will Ferrell’s Anchorman persona, newscaster Ron Burgundy, has not popped up at some point ever since he announced the return on US late-night TV talkshow Conan well over a year ago. The original film of 2004 has found an ever more committed fan base since being released to DVD and remains familiarly quotable. With the sequel, the setting has moved forward a bit from the mid-1970s to the early-1980s, and from the West coast of San Diego to the Big Apple of New York, meaning all the period references have been overhauled. There are a huge number of additional cameo appearances, and all the core cast have returned. So maybe that explains why the feeling of finally sitting in a cinema to watch this return was so deflating for me. I can’t say it entirely lacks laughs, but it does lack cohesion. I don’t doubt the cast had fun making it, but the experience of watching it is a little wearying, especially for a comedy film that nudges two hours in length.
I don’t in all honesty have much energy for getting into it all in detail. It just felt fairly slipshod, like a series of only barely-linked skits, held together by the character tropes so familiar from the first film. Ron remains a media dinosaur, unable to keep up with social changes that threaten to relegate him to a racist, misogynist relic (and yes, we get a bit of both here, presented within a context of media satire — after a fashion, considering it’s about thirty years late). Paul Rudd’s Brian is a woman-chasing lothario with indifferent success, David Koechner’s Champ is filled with barely-repressed feelings for Ron not to mention very little knowledge of the sports he reports on, and finally there’s Steve Carell’s weatherman Brick, still with a very low IQ but now with an incipient love interest (the well-matched Kristen Wiig, who manages to remain a charming screen presence for all the brief time she’s on). Finally, there’s Ron’s on-again off-again love interest Veronica (Christina Applegate), who basically plays the straight man to all of Ferrell’s comedy stylings.
The film’s central thesis is that news has become a vapid attempt to secure ratings, which is not exactly a groundbreaking idea, but at least it’s put across with some gusto. The bad guy is a blatant mashup of Rupert Murdoch (Australian media mogul) and Richard Branson (blond goatee and an airline) as the owner of the 24-hour television station which recruits Ron and his team, and needless to say, Important Lessons Are Learned by the film’s close, both for Ron, for his friends, and for the mogul. There are good scenes and funny ones too (and I did laugh at the dinner Ron shared with his black female boss and her family, for example), but the individual pleasures all feel so very transitory. Stylistically, it feels like something that will work much better on a TV-sized screen, but here comes across as cheap-looking and rather flat.
Still, it’s a comedy and it has some laughs. It will no doubt make many of its viewers pleased, especially those who’ve come to enjoy these fashionably retro characters. I like the first film, and I liked this one too, just not enough to want to think too hard about it, because every time I do it makes me feel less warmly towards it. Perhaps that’s the key though. Try not to think too hard. It seems to work for Brick.
Director Adam McKay; Writers Will Ferrell and McKay; Cinematographer Oliver Wood; Starring Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate; Length 119 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Enfield, London, Monday 23 December 2013.