Took the kids in to see this today, and went with very low expectations. I didn't mind the first Anchorman, but I didn't love it either. It struck me as maybe half a dozen decent Saturday Night Live sketches strung together with more of a thematic link than a narrative one. Appropriate really, since the period in which it was set, the 1970s, was something of a high water mark for sketch comedy cinema. Think Flying High or The Kentucky Fried Movie. Actually, don't think about The Kentucky Fried Movie. It's sort of undermines my whole high water mark thesis.
But Thomas wanted to see the Anchorman sequel, probably because of the amazing job Will Ferrell has done injecting it into mass consciousness over the past couple of months. I let him rent the first movie on iTunes the other day and being an eleven-year-old boy, he loved it. So, what the hell? I figured I'd go with him.
I owe Mister Ferrell an apology for ever doubting his comedic or sequential chops. It is rare of course to encounter a sequel that surpasses the source material and it is all but unique when the source material wasn't that strong to begin with. So little interest did I have in this movie I even broke my own rule about reading reviews before seeing it.
Most of the reviewers seemed to get a few chuckles and consider it worth dropping your dollar for the big screen experience. Most reviewers are morons. This is a really, really good film. It far exceeds both the satiric and narrative vision of its forerunner, working at a number of levels both as a comedy and as a deconstruction of the malaise of the modern news media.
It's funny. Let's just get that settled up front. It's really fucking funny in its particulars, the hundreds of little jokes peppered through the script, and it's funny in the metanarrative of Ron Burgundy's redemption as a harbinger of civilizational decline.
American humor is often critiqued as loud and brash, two-dimensional, as being all tip and no iceberg, but only by morons or a certain type of cultural commentator from the UK, or wishing they were from the UK. In Anchorman 2, Ferrell and his ensemble cast give us a master class in writing and performing comedy with wildly different layers of meaning, intent and sophistication. From Steve Carell's absurdist shihan, Brick Tamland – a tour de force of post-Python silliness which reaches sublime heights in his double act with Kristen Wiig – to Josh Lawson's channeling the animal spirits of Rupert Murdoch there hardly seems to be a school of larfs which doesn't get a look in.
None of this would lift the sequel above the original were not for the obvious care Farrell and Co. have taken with the larger story. This was what I didn't expect, and it's what brings all of the jokes together for an unexpected payoff. Anchorman 2 is not just a scarifyingly talented comedy troupe working through some highly polished zingers. It is a savage takedown of the dumbing down of the electronic news media. This could have been a worthy and ultimately woeful exercise in finger wagging but never once does the script even veer in that direction. The cold cruelty of the judgment is all the funnier for being delivered without potentiousness or fake sentimentality. Not that Burgundy simply reprises his role as a giant joke vending machine this time around. The final triumph is that he manages all of the above while Ferrell's much loved cult creation goes on a genuine hero's journey.
Go see it. You won't be disappointed. And if you are disappointed, then fuck you, you're dead to me.