Anchorman 2: The Legend Continuesby Kavish Chetty / 14.02.2014
Ron Burgundy and his greasy cohorts have come blistering back after a decade of solitude. After his phoenix-like ascent to television news stardom, the bristle-moustached news anchor’s psychotic masculinity came to define a large element of American comic culture: certainly, for a few years, San Diego was allied to a new mythical origin (“Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it Sahn Dee-yahgo, which means ‘a whale’s vagina’”) and it became the common practice of a modern man seeking to avoid the honours of a gunfight duel to declare instead, “I will take your mother out for a nice seafood dinner, and never call her again!” Quotable and infectious and possessed of a semi-charming virulence was Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Now – “by the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!” as Burgundy exclaims in one of the film’s many detours into flagrant absurdity – Will Ferrell and (director) Adam McKay push the story into the early 80s, where the rise of cable television, 24-hour news networks, and the intrusion of black females into the work-space provide a fresh set of challenges for our close-minded twerps and a new landscape for tilted and half-successful satire.
As we open on things, Burgundy’s fortune takes a rapid dive into oblivion. When Ron is brushed aside for a prestigious new night-time anchor gig in favour of his wife, Veronica Corningstone-Burgundy (Christina Applegate), he chooses divorce, rather than accede to the jealous indignity of being second-place to a woman. That of course would be too much to endure. He crashes instead into incipient alcoholism and whiles away his burn-out as an emcee at Sea World. But here, he finds the playful arrogance of the dolphins too potent a reminder of his failures – a firing ensues, and his depression lurches into overdrive. But soon, he is approached by a GNN (Global News Network) scout who wants him to get the team back together for a new shot at success in New York, helming the graveyard shift at an all-hours news channel. And thus, Ron goes a-sleuthing on a nostalgic quest through the margins of America to find his old, displaced pals: Champ Kind (“whuh-hammy!”) is running a fried chicken store, battering-up bats to cut costs; Brian Fantana is photographing pussies; and Brick Tamland shows up to mourn at his own funeral.
Reunited, the fucked-up foursome steam into the Big Apple, where new nemeses are quickly established. Jack Lime (James Marsden, with glistening American teeth) is the handsome premier anchor; and Linda Jackson the black tigress manager, with a burst of curly mane and an unquenchable scarlet-fingernailed sexuality. Anchorman 2 refuses to slouch in the vast shadow of its predecessor, but mines much of the same comic vein for its forward drive. The heroes routinely slip into semi-surrealistic dialogue, but these sudden short-circuits of reality take on the easy predictability of a principle, and don’t always jolt enough for laughter. Ron can be depended upon to be as obliviously in dereliction of political correctness and social grace as possible. And Brick (Steve Carrell) finds a crotch-thrilling romance with secretary Chani (Kristen Wiig), and his conversations are still quilted together from a shred of non-sequiturs. Anchorman 2 hits its marks occasionally, but seems to ignore much of its rich, new cultural context for satire, favouring the easy gag.
This new context is a sly satire with which the film shows how an internal ratings-war led news broadcasting from simple reportage to screens jammed with infographics and scrolling headlines, four-way shouting matches between guest interviewees, a preference for reporting on live-action car chases, jingoistic pro-America segments, and cutesy inserts on animals doing ridiculous things: essentially, the rise of simulacra and a media awash with the white noise of ideology. The film obviously doesn’t do half-way enough with this charged capacity for satire, but to hope for this would be to expect way too much from a crew who languish in designer latex (the “hooded guest”, or the “rigid ghost,” perhaps?). Instead, we watch Burgundy squirm with the anxieties of his first interracial relationship, using his dumbness as a cordon sanitaire for some cheap, stereotyping remarks.
Anchorman 2 is electric with energy; cameo appearances and inside jokes throng, as do the flashy magenta suits and other era-specific splashes of sartorial mischief. Ferrell has championed another confection of lighthearted idiocy, but in the end, it’s only really saved by the pop-cultural capital of the first film and the general enthusiasm with which the film hurtles to its conclusion. Much more interesting uses of its landscape are left untouched. But, for fuck’s sake, it’s Ron fucking Burgundy.