Sequels are hard. Sequels to beloved comedies are harder. Separate the movies by about a decade and it makes it near impossible to create a worthy follow-up.
In 2004, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” won our hearts with its pitch perfect absurdity and hijinks. Adam McKay and Will Ferrell delivered a perfect send up of 70’s era male-dominated newscasters dealing with that old, old wooden ship known as diversity. In the process, they gave Steve Carell his breakout role as Brick Tamland and created one of the most highly quotable comedies since Airplane!
Now, nearly a decade later the whole cast is back for another romp. This time around, it’s 1980 and the former “Channel 5 News Team” is heading to GNN, a new network experimenting with 24-hour news. At GNN, they go up against the beloved newsman with the primetime slot played by James Marsden and a bevy of other situations rife with comedy.
First of all, I have to commend McKay and Ferrell for not taking the formula that worked so well a decade ago and regurgitating it for this follow up, for the most part. It would have been far too easy to go the Hangover Part II route with this sequel but it’s obvious they have enough care for their property to take it in a new direction.
However, Anchorman 2 is not the end all, be all of comedy genius that many people believe its predecessor to be. This movie has the laughs but it also has its issues. It’s a “bigger” movie than Anchorman was, much bigger, in fact. It’s not something I necessarily expected. I went into the theater thinking the 9-year (and change) gap between the movies would inspire the Anchorman team to deliver a product that would serve as hilarious nostalgia for the original.
Instead they went “big” and the gamble didn’t pay off terribly well. Not that escalation is a bad thing. It’s not. It just doesn’t suit a project with such amazing talent involved. The jokes weren’t quite as sharp as I’d hoped, either. The joke to laugh ratio was high enough, mind you, but the movie was lacking a certain “gut busting” quality.
I commended the production for not regurgitating the original script, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t pay tribute to the original movie. In certain respects, the level of homage was bordering on too much. One or two of the collective laughs in the audience of my screening was solely based on references to the original movie. A certain sequence in the climax of the movie took something beloved in the original movie to the extreme and it just didn’t work for me.
The movie also lacked a unifying thread to tie all the hijinks together. The news team faces off with Marsden’s character, but he’s a poor substitute for Vince Vaughn’s Wes Mantooth from the original. There’s a highly forgettable romantic subplot for Brick that plays up the weirdness of the character for the sake of weirdness instead of comedy. The rise of 24-hour cable news could have been a great plot device but not enough attention is given to it. In fact, a big plot point is how the news team breaks ground on running non-news puff pieces. It’s an interesting thread rendered flat by the fact that the climax of the original movie was predicated on that same type of journalism.
In the end, this is still a funny movie. It may not have been the best comedy of 2013 (hello, This is the End) and I’m confident 2014 will have better offerings (please me good, 22 Jump Street), but it made me laugh and it was nice to see these actors working together again.
I enjoyed myself, but I don’t see myself regularly quoting the movie with friends for the next decade. That’s what the original movie is for.