March 12, 2014

I Did Not Laugh At ANCHORMAN 2

"Why do we have to tell them what they need to hear?  Why can't we tell them what they want to hear?"
Halfway through my screening of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, a group of about five people stood up and wandered out of the theater.

I didn't blame them.

The writing was on the wall when we were almost ten full minutes into the movie and I had yet to actually laugh out loud.  That's pretty much the opposite of the first Anchorman, a film so overstuffed with jokes you have to literally stop and catch your breath.  Comedy sequels have a long legacy of sucking and I certainly didn't expect the latest chapter in the life of Ron Burgundy to surpass (or even really be on par with) the original, but I never thought that it would just be flat out unfunny.

Comedy sequels love to blatantly rehash gags from the first movie and there's plenty of that here, like Brian Fantana's epic condom collection standing in for his variety of exotic colognes, or Ferrell shouting out nonsensical exclamations approximately every 15 minutes because of that one time he shouted "Great Odin's raven!" and people laughed.  In fact, the funniest thing in the whole movie is unquestionably the redux of the original newscaster brawl, but that's comedy based solely on the random element of celebrity cameos, so I wouldn't exactly use that as a barometer of comedic quality.  No, the real problem lies in the film's new material, where something intangible and ephemeral just never quite coalesces.  Most surprisingly of all, Anchorman 2 is far more plot-driven than joke-driven.  The first film is pretty shaggy from a story perspective, but the comedy is so damn strong that you simply don't notice.  This time out there's a real focus on sending Burgundy on a long and detailed character journey and most of it is sadly uncompelling, to the point where the plot manages to drag down some of the jokes that actually sound really good on paper.  The guys smoking crack live on camera?   Brick getting romantically entangled with a deranged Kristen Wiig?  Blind Ron Burgundy nursing a baby shark back to health?  Sounds like comedy gold!  And yet, it all mysteriously falls flat.  The teaming of Carrell and Wiig in particular is actively terrible, so much so that I literally rolled my eyes whenever they came on screen together.  I love the concept that Burgundy and the News Team gave birth to all the very worst tendencies of today's horrid and useless 24 hour news cycle, but it never really pays off past demonstrating the industry's obvious stupidity.  It's all so frustrating that after a while it felt like I was watching some kind of second rate college comedy troupe who decided to write their own Anchorman sketch rather than develop some original characters.  Once that thought jumped into my head, the entire affair became infinitely more depressing.

I'll admit that some of my tepid reaction may have been driven by the audience or lack thereof.  I went to a 5 o'clock show on the Friday before Christmas in the heart of downtown Boston, and yet there were no more than 20 people in attendance.  Perhaps my timing was a bit off and I should have aimed for a later show; I imagine that in a packed house the movie might have played a bit better.  When the whole room is laughing, it's easy to get swept away in that energy and chuckle a little easier.  And yet any of my friends will attest that I'm in no way bashful about reacting in a theater.  I've certainly found myself screaming and howling with laughter in plenty of near-empty rooms, so it's not as if the crowd element is necessary in provoking the desired response.  I once went to an advanced screening of 40 Year Old Virgin the night before it hit theaters.  Strangely enough there were only about 9 people there, one of whom happened to be a coworker of mine.  I laughed so hard at that movie that when it was over, my coworker (who was sitting directly in front of me) immediately turned around and said, "I'm so glad you were here.  Hearing you laugh made that movie so much more fun to watch."  I therefore have to believe that my muted response to Anchorman 2 was driven by the film's genuine mediocrity, and not by a lack of other laughing voices in the dark.

When the first Anchorman hit DVD, the studio also put out a second movie comprised entirely of deleted scenes and storylines called Wake Up Ron Burgundy!  It was not very good.  The whole time I was watching it I kept thinking, "I can see why all this stuff was cut out."  Paramount has pulled a similar move this time, but in a different and much smarter way: they re-released a new cut of Anchorman 2 into theaters that keeps the story completely intact, but uses alternate versions of all the jokes.  It's also a few minutes longer and rated R instead of PG-13.  I'll admit that I'm mildly curious to see how that version plays out.  I have to assume that these are the B-jokes and I can't imagine that being edgier or raunchier will magically fix the whole movie, but maybe some of these 763 new jokes will actually make me laugh.  That'd be more than I can say for the theatrical cut.

Except for the brawl.  That shit was hilarious.


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Title: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Meagan Good, Dylan Baker, James Marsden, Josh Lawson, Kristen Wiig, Greg Kinnear
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Theatrical 4K - AMC Boston Common