In 10 Words or Less
Ferrell and friends deliver funny disappointment
Loves: Comedy mega-casts, superstar cameos, Paul Rudd
Likes: Christina Applegate, Will Ferrell
Dislikes: Overexposure, disappointment, hype
Hates: Lazy writing, excessive improv
Anchorman was a bolt of comedy lightning, as Will Ferrell found in Ron Burgundy a character with the right amount of misplaced bluster to match his aggressive brand of aggro comedy, and the talented supporting cast, headlined by Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell, could keep up with him, punch-for-punch, in a game of ridiculous one upmanship. Pretty much everything about it, down to Burgundy's subtitled pooch pal Baxter, worked brilliantly, and the period setting of the 1970s put a polyester sheen over the whole affair that made it shine. And as director Adam McKay and his co-writer Ferrell preferred not to revisit their past film successes, it looked like the movie and all it's many highlights would stand on their own forever as a memorable bit of silliness for future generations to enjoy.
Then something happened, and we ended up with Anchorman 2, possibly the most hyped and commercial-driven comedy in movie history. The ads came fast and furious months before the movie ever came close to arriving in theaters, oversaturating the audience to the point where many people, including fans of the original, were saying they were already over a movie they hadn't seen. It was an abject lesson in the downside of hype. Now, that the ads have had time to die down (and sadly start back up in time for this release) we can re-examine the film on its own merits. And sadly, it's still a let-down.
Advancing the world of Anchorman 10 years puts Ron and his lady love Veronica (Christina Applegate) into yet another over-the-top decade, this time the ‘80s, where Ron finds himself down and out as his news career crashes and burns, and Veronica's soars, leaving her single, with their child Walter (who, as played by Judah Nelson, manages to be sweetly and obnoxiously innocent all at once.) However the burgeoning world of 24-hours-a-day news, spearheaded by Australian millionaire Kench Allenby's GNN, gives Ron a chance to rise like a phoenix by reconvening his news team of manly reporter Brian Fantana (Rudd), burly sports guy Champ Kind (Dave Koechner) and dim-witted weatherman Brick Tamland (Carrell.) Together, they usher in the era of trash news, with all the hallmarks of today's awful non-stop news tornado (the satire being the film's sharpest comedic element, spread over the length of the movie.)
A tighter focus on making fun of the idea that Ron Burgundy is the father of modern TV news would have made for a great follow-up, but that doesn't seem to have been in the plans. Instead, what happened was they took what worked in the first film, piled cameos on top of it and inflated it to the very edge of explosion (a second epic news gang fight is the clearest example of this, which plays like a Golden Globes ceremony got way out of hand.) There are certainly laughs to be found in Anchorman 2, especially when Kristen Wiig offers a female take on Brick's dopiness or when the team is behind the desk reporting yet another ridiculous news story, but the film is filled to bursting with "stuff" that pacing is often missing when it's not strained, and scenes feel like they exist mainly to create the opportunity for improvisational riffing. Sometimes this works, like when the boys explore Fantana's contraceptives collection or when Carell and Wiig face off, but usually it just happens and goes away, indicating a lack of overall structure.
Part of the problem here is the way the film tries to coast on the positive vibes engendered by the three male leads (sorry, Koechner.) While Rudd still seems to be trying (and as a result is responsible for some of the film's funniest moments), Ferrell and Carrell are doing the same act we saw the first time around. You can only do that so long before you wear out your welcome and the surprise is gone. It's no shock then that those who play opposite them, including the aforementioned Wiig, the wonderful Applegate, rival newscaster James Marsden and Meagan Good (who plays Ron's new boss) get more laughs, as they are showing something different right up against the same old. Incredibly, the movie manages to kill a joke through overexposure in the span of a single segment, as a runner about Ron going blind and it affecting his understanding of the world around him is run into the ground in just a few scenes.
The bigger sin might be wasting some truly talented comedic actors, with Fred Willard, Chris Parnell, June Diane Raphael and a gaggle of greats relegated to the gang fight, all left with little to do. Yes it's fun to see familiar faces do silly things like play the ghost of Stonewall Jackson or a French-Canadian news presenter, but once you get over the feeling of "Oh, they're in this too?," you quickly segue into a feeling of "That's all they did?" A movie with this many funny people should deliver a lot more laughs. It's sort of amazing that a film that's overlong and over-stuffed manages to feel like it offers so little. Perhaps it would have been better to write a lot of solid jokes rather than a lot of potential scenarios for playing a big game of improv comedy.
Of course, if they didn't we wouldn't have the extended version, which subs in some more adult, alternate takes, mostly stuff that couldn't get past the censors in order to keep the box-office-friendly PG-13 rating it had in theaters. The difference in length from the theatrical release is a whopping four minutes, however one of the extras may convince you to watch this cut.
Anchorman 2 arrives in a three-disc set (two Blu-rays, one DVD), which are held in a standard-width Blu-ray keepcase with a dual-hubbed tray, held in an embossed slipcover. The disc features a dance-themed animated menu with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and English 2.0 audio descriptive tracks, while subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is quite impressive, presenting the film in pristine quality, with all the garish color of Ron Burgundy's world on full display, from his turquoise Sea World jacket to the chromakey green of Brick's pants. The level of fine detail is quite high, showing off the work that went into the sets and the textures of the various costumes, and the skintones are uniformly solid. The image is sharp, but maintains a cinematic look, black level are deep, and there are no issues with digital distractions of any kind. Despite a lot of different looks, a lot of special effects and a lot happening on-screen at times, this transfer is rock solid.
No complaints can be heard when listening to this film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which takes full advantage of the movie's funky soundtrack and action scenes to deliver a strong, enveloping sound field that's complemented by crisp clear dialogue (a key to most good modern comedies. While the news gang fight may be excessive, it results in a showcase for the audio, taking the film to another level. The surrounds handle the music and atmospheric effects for the most part, with the occasional bit of dynamic mixing, while the low-end acquits itself well with some deep bass hits along the way. If anything disappoints, it's that such a fine presentation doesn't accompany a better film.
I may not be too kind to the movie here, but the extras are outstanding, mainly from a quantity perspective, but also in terms of the quality. They start with an R-rated "super-sized" version of the film that was released in theaters a while after the original played. Checking in at a full 25 minutes longer, it is advertised as including 763* new jokes (with the asterisk connected to a disclaimer saying "subject to your sense of humor.") This cut includes some scenes that were wholly not a part of the original film, along with many line substitutions that go harder than the original. The main effect of seeing the vast majority of the joke swaps in this version of the film is to emphasize how pointless many of the jokes are. If they could change out so much of the film without changing it in any real material way, what value did those jokes really have? At times, it makes you wonder if there actually was a script. The actual additions to the film are often much better, like the musical scene that represents the original concept for the sequel, though there are some dumb jokes that don't fit in logically anymore (if they ever did.) The one part that didn't sit well are the things they had Ron's son Walter say, which were really harsh for a kid.
Watching the slightly extended unrated cut lets you listen to an audio commentary by McKay, Ferrell, Rudd, Carrell, Koechner and producer Judd Apatow. Starting off with some thoughts about commentaries (and the usual jokes about how no one listens to them), they go all over the place in their stories, point out the work of crew members and reveal some names who were in line to be a part of the movie, but didn't make it in. They also enjoy making fun of Dylan Baker and point out some missed jokes (like Wiig's character's name.) The most interesting part though has to be the information about Rudd's personal recording solution, which gives you a peek behind the Hollywood curtain. Surprisingly, for a track featuring so many people, there are a few dead spots in the second half (apparently thanks to some Oreo bingeing.)
There are a few nice behind-the-scenes pieces to complement the commentary insight, starting with "The Newsroom" (18:50), which focuses on the newsroom set and news team characters, while touching on the influence of Terminator 2 on the film and showing some of Marsden's 2003 auditions for Rudd and Carrell's parts. There are four more behind-the-scenes featurettes (46:14), focusing on some of the more production-heavy sequences, like the original musical concept, a big RV stunt, the animal characters of Baxter and Doby and the trademark news fight. Told with a mix of interviews and on-set footage, these clips give good info on how the movie was made, especially when you get to see the celebrities on-set for the news fight. There's even more background material in the three previsualizations (8:47), which show how the RV stunt would play out and how the meeting of Baxter and Doby would go, while there's also test footage of the big news fight with stunt men, showing some ideas that weren't used in the film. For a goofy comedy, the work done on this film was rather extensive.
You say you want to find out more about how the movie was made? Well, you're in luck. There are nine table reads (21:52) showing early testing of the script with the actors, while three audition clips are included. You get to see how Meagan Good got her part, reading opposite Ferrell, but you also see how Amy Poehler (reading for Applegate's part) and Dylan Baker (reading for Fred Willard's role) didn't get parts in the original Anchorman. If only there was more of these really behind-the-scenes moments to enjoy.
Now, with three version of the film included, you probably would assume that you've seen all there is of Anchorman 2, but you'd be horribly, horribly wrong. There are 132 minutes and 19 seconds of alternate and deleted footage still to come here:
- Gag Reel - 2 parts (14:50)
There's some hysterical stuff in here amongst the breaks, goof-offs and flubs, particularly between Carrell and Wiig, while Applegate and some former SNL ladies show who the filthier sex is.
- Line-O-Rama - 2 parts (8:14)
Rapid fire reels of alternate takes highlighted by Carrell and Wiig once again.
- Welcome to the Dolphin Show (2:03)
Ferrell goes off during Burgundy's time at Sea World to OK effect.
- Catfight (1:49)
Applegate and Good go head-to-head, but what's in the movie is far better.
- News-O-Rama (2:28)
Similar to the Line-O-Rama, but it's all news stories, with some winners on-hand
- Kench-O-Rama (1:40)
You get the idea by now, though this time it's all in an Aussie dialect.
- Deleted Scenes (10:14)
These didn't make it back into the many films, and for good reason. For completists only.
- Extended/Alternate Scenes (1:31:01)
The motherlode of cut footage. This is a complete hodgepodge of ideas that's almost a movie unto itself. For fans, it's worth a look though, as there are some interesting bits in here, including more Parnell, a scene with Chris Gethard (who didn't really make it into the final film) and a black-out scene reliant on audio that's bananas. If this had made it into the movie, I may have applauded in the theater.
Wrapping things up in this set are six trailers (10:08) including the teaser trailers that started all the hype, as well as a clip of Jack Black singing a song (3:39) about his personal connection to Anchorman 2 from a 826LA benefit.
The Bottom Line
The deck was stacked against Ferrell Force Four from the beginning thanks to a hype machine that made it impossible for the film to meet expectations. That the overly-long film doesn't coalesce into a particularly funny product in the end doesn't help, though there are some quality moments to be found, especially if you happen to be a fan of the many big names who pass by the screen at one point or another. This Blu-ray on the other hand is an absolutely winner, offering a beautiful presentation and copious bonus content, so it's easy to recommend it to anyone who liked Anchorman and add a star or two if this film did the trick for you.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.