Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A funny, messy 'Anchorman 2'

If promotional effort counts, Will Ferrell deserves 2013's award for being the hardest working man in showbusiness.

In full Ron Burgundy regalia, Ferrell seems to have turned up everywhere. In some markets, willing news anchors have acted as if Ferrell's promotions are the funniest thing ever. To which I only can say, "Puh-leeze."

Not that Ferrell isn't funny: It's just that his Anchorman 2 promotional shtick wore me out.

Now, allow me to equivocate some more. There's little question that Ferrell's Ron Burgundy qualifies as a classic comic character, a self-absorbed anchorman who's as devoted to his hair as he is to the pursuit of truth, justice and the American way.

The original movie, a modest box-office success, has done landmark business in the secondary market. Excitement about the sequel, even though it arrives nine years after release of the original, is running high.

So what's the verdict?

Let me put it this way: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues put me in mind of Charles Dickens's famous opening for A Tale of Two Cities: To paraphrase and perhaps overstate matters: Anchorman 2 is the best of comedies; it's also the worst of comedies. If you read a little further into Dickens' opening paragraph, you'll find this sentence, as well: "It was the age of foolishness."

If Anchorman 2 is representative of its time, we are indeed living in another age of foolishness. Unashamedly ridiculous, this sequel catches up with characters from the first installment some 10 years after we first met them.

Ron and his wife Victoria (Christina Applegate) are now a news team in New York City. When the anchor of the network evening news (Harrison Ford) cedes his job to Victoria, a jealous Ron goes into a tailspin, abandoning his wife and young son (Judah Nelson) and landing work as an announcer at San Diego's SeaWorld.

Ron's rescued from exile when an eager representative (Dylan Baker) of an emerging 24-hour news network invites him to gather his old team and become part of the fledgling GNN family.

This gives director Adam McKay, who wrote the screenplay with Ferrell, an opportunity to bring back the cast from the first installment: Paul Rudd returns as Brian Fantana, hard-partying investigative reporter; Steve Carell reprises his role as Brick Tamland, the world's weirdest weatherman; and David Koechner revives Champ Kind, America's crudest sportscaster.

Added to the mix are Kristen Wiig, as a weirdly intense love interest for Carell's Brick; Megan Good, as GNN's hard-charging boss; and James Marsden as Jack Lime, GNN's handsome anchor and network star.

While Lime headlines GNN's newscast, Burgundy and his cohorts are relegated to the 2 a.m. slot, which is about as close to prime time as Burgundy is to Edward R. Murrow.

But wait....

Burgundy regains prime-time exposure when he stumbles upon a rating-boosting formula, a mix of feel-good news and mindless patriotism, all presented with Ferrell's masterful pomposity.

Setting the story during the period when non-stop news was born gives Ferrell and McKay an opportunity to add a bit of trenchancy to their comedy, serving up satire about the 24-hour news cycle and the vacuousness of so much of broadcast news.

It would be nearly impossible to sum up all the gags and sketchy plot lines in Anchorman 2, which survives a woeful beginning before providing its biggest laughs. It also would be unfair to reveal the many big-name cameos that are stuffed into the picture's finale. Discovering their presence is half the fun.

By the time, the end credits roll, you either will have submitted to the movie's unashamed foolishness or you'll have found the nearest exit.

If memory serves (and who knows about that), the approach here seems more scattershot than in the original, which also was directed by McKay. Anchorman 2 emerges as a disjointed collection of gags -- one involving a rescued shark, another mocking the over-produced oomph of summer movies, another reducing Ron to bawling infancy. The list goes on -- and then on some more.

You get the idea, when it's bad, Anchorman 2 falls flat; when it's good, it's a preposterously silly look at ... well ... I'm not entirely sure what.

Still, I laughed enough to leave the theater with a smile on my face or maybe it was a half smile, inspired partly by my puzzlement at the hit-and-miss quality of the whole affair and partly by the bits I found too funny to resist.

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