A sequel was a bad choice

Sam Clay, as a huge fan of the original, takes a look at the long-awaited sequel to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and finds himself wanting less.

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I’m a huge fan of the first Anchorman film. It played for a week in my local cinema in 2004, and I saw it three times. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has actually become a useful barometer of new people for me. It’s not that I will never like you if you don’t know it, or even if you don’t like it, but if you’re a fan, you’re off to a good start. If you have a knowing smile when someone tells you that ‘milk was a bad choice’, or when you hear someone referring to a ‘smelly pirate hooker’, then I think we’ll probably get along fine.

It’s so often, and widely, quoted that it’s hard to accept that it was, to all intents and purposes, a flop. Coming off the back of Elf, still Ferrell’s biggest hit at the UK box-office, audiences didn’t really respond, and the film only became a success on home-video, and, I would imagine, illegal downloads. Since the first film, Ferrell has remained a star, however, and with a handful of box-office hits (The Other Guys, Step Brothers) and flops (Land of the Lost, Semi-Pro) behind him, it feels like the right time for Ron Burgundy to stride back onto cinema screens like the salon-haired behemoth of news entertainment that he is.

Or does it? Actually, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was kind of perfect as it was for me. There are few things more frustrating than a needless and disappointing sequel to a film you love. Call it the Crank 2 effect. And, the first film didn’t leave a lot of open avenues for its characters to explore. Ron and Veronica were together, and we found out, via voiceover, what would happen to Brian (Paul Rudd), Champ (David Koechner) and Brick (Steve Carell). As such, the sequel has to tread carefully, so as not to impinge on people’s memories of the first film, something, I’m afraid it didn’t successfully manage for me.

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It’s not that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is bad, or unfunny. It’s patently neither. I laughed a lot. Perhaps only The To-Do List and This is the End have made me laugh more amongst this year’s releases (2013 has been a great year for cinema, but a pretty lousy year for comedy). It doesn’t deliver to the same standards as the original, but perhaps that was inevitable. The first film was so beloved, and hit a perfect chord with those that discovered it that those expectations are almost impossible to meet; and despite the best efforts of the cast, they don’t come anywhere close.

I couldn’t argue that Anchorman 2 will be a waste of your time, but I don’t see it living up to the first film for many people. We shouldn’t be surprised, it’s hard to recreate movie magic, especially for a film like Anchorman which relies on its jokes hitting, and there’s the fact that its star is at his best and most appealing when he’s doing something fresh. His biggest successes have come when he’s doing something new, so Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro suffer from diminishing returns when compared to the glorious Talladega Nights, and both Step Brothers and The Other Guys are delightful because they are new versions of his persona in ridiculous situations. As such, Anchorman 2 was maybe always going to struggle to hit the same heights as its predecessor.

There are a number of reasons why. The best jokes are the same as the first film – Baxter the dog, cameos, huge, out of control fight scene. As such, it doesn’t feel right. Everything here that works is a retread of the first film. I don’t think anyone wanted them to do anything hugely original, but there’s a real sense of staleness, which allied to a flabby 115 minute running time (20 minutes longer than the original) means that there’s no real sense of fluidity to the film. The first film had pace, and momentum, and as such any joke that didn’t work was almost immediately replaced by another, and then, if needed, another. In this film, jokes last too long, the film feels robbed of any sense of drive or urgency and the pacing is all wrong.

Of course, if the best jokes are the retreads, it suggests that the new stuff doesn’t have what it takes, and sadly, that’s the case. Once Ron and the News Team are reunited working for the first 24 hour news channel in America), the workplace scenes are very it and miss. The stuff with James Marsden, playing ace news anchor, Jack Lime, are fun. Marsden has lovely timing, and his antagonistic chemistry with Ferrell works well, but Meagan Good, as the station’s producer in chief, has a thankless role. Ron Burgundy being in an interracial relationship isn’t a goldmine for funny scenes here, and Good’s character appears to be pretty different in almost every scene.

It’s pretty lazy, and both Kristen Wiig, as Brick’s soulmate, and Christina Applegate suffer from underwritten roles. This is as unfunny as Wiig’s ever been (she’s luminous, and much, much better in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), and it’s an entirely unnecessary subplot, adding extra fat to the running time, for no value at all. It’s a huge waste of a stellar comic performer, and one of the real disappointments of the film for me.

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It’s not that there are no good ideas, here. The idea that Ron Burgundy is responsible, directly and entirely, for the output of Fox News is a good idea. It’s not particularly well-executed, but it’s funny enough to count as a win. There are just too few of them for the film to have satisfied me. I wanted to laugh as much, and as hard as I did when I saw Anchorman, those three times in my local Odeon. Instead, I had an ok time, I resented those who seemed to find it funnier than I did, and I was bored before the end.

All I wanted was for a slice of perfection to be repeated; for a film nine years on from its predecessor to tickle me as forcefully, and in all of the same places, while being both new, and familiar to me. Unfortunately, such is the brutally unfair and unreasonable predicament for any sequel to a beloved film, and while I have seen scores of worse films than Anchorman 2 this year, few have deflated me more.

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