It is one of the most familiar old stories. Two veterans of a company notice that the tenure of their current boss began just about twenty years before. “He’s done a great job,” one old hand says to the other. “But he’ll never be his father.”
You know the story. So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that the generally admirable movie comedy “Anchorman 2” isn’t up to the mark set by its predecessor. “2,” which is subtitled: “The Legend Continues,” was written by star Will Farrell and director Adam McKay, just as was the original movie. It stars the same talented people—Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell and so on.
And, like the first film, “2” includes some big stars in cameo parts: Harrison Ford, Vince Vaughn, Sasha Baron Cohen, Kirsten Dunst, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, and so on. Minor parts are played by well-known and talented actors including James Marsden, Kristen Wiig, Meagan Good, and the perfectly cast Greg Kinnear.
The new movie knows what the memorable stuff was in the first film, and it finds ways to reintroduce those items—Love Panther cologne, Ron Burgundy as jazz flautist, the dog, the vacant-lot gang-battle between squads of different channels’ newsreaders, and the impromptu singing of The Starland Vocal Band’s one hit, “Afternoon Delight.”
Though Farrell and McKay have obviously wanted this movie to be its own thing, they have still repeated the form of the original. Burgundy (Farrell), a ratings-getting news “anchorman,” finds time to have a romantic relationship with a co-worker (in this case it is his boss, played by Good).
He has a professional crack-up, again, and again falls into ill-shaven despair. But he is kept afloat until a crisis requires his sort of professional touch. “2” likes this plot so much that it repeats it at least twice and maybe three times.
The film’s problem is that McKay is never able to make the movie seem to shift tonal gears. Unaccountable things that happen in the second movie never seem surreal inclusions, as did several of the most pleasing passages of the first one. Instead the whole story seems to be about a parallel universe in which Burgundy’s cartoon impulses are not odd at all, really.
The tone is like the motorhome Burgundy and his “news team” travel in during the first reel of the film. It is driving itself down the road. Everything inside seems normal until the vehicle suddenly and unaccountably swerves, leaves the road, and begins rolling.
Then the presence inside of a vat of hot grease, a cache of bowling balls, and a terrarium full of scorpions become significant. As you can imagine. McKay uses slow-motion photography to show the grease burn one news team member, the balls hit others, and one of the scorpions go for Burgundy’s lip. Meanwhile, one of the film’s many soft pop songs from the sixties, seventies, and eighties plays.
Why isn’t this funny? Well, it sort of is. But not so audience members would laugh out loud. And that’s the way the film is all the way through. Yes, the blindness, that’s funny. But I heard no audience laughs at that point in the showing I attended.
And yes, Burgundy mistaking the powers of a psychologist (Kinnear) for those of a tele-manipulator is funny. I didn’t think the anchorman’s reaction to the race of his girlfriend’s family was funny, but in “2” “civil rights” has the significance that “feminism” did in the first film.
The screenplay develops each of its ideas to a greater extent than it developed anything was developed in the original film. Obviously the writers have worked as hard to fill out the story as Farrell has to promote the movie, which is saying a lot.
But this cinematic son is only admirable. His father, the founder, had a sort of genius. And while we can several times a year find well-made new movie comedies to watch, we don’t very often see ones made with jolts of inspiration. We admire hard-won success. We love flashes of originality.