I believe I heard John Cleese refer to comedy as being brittle. He spoke about how with comedy, the tone has to be exactly right because if it fails at any point, you can lose your audience and, in turn, lose the joke. A lot of filmmakers struggle with comedy. Even the veterans, like the once god-like Mike Myers stumble and fall when attempting new things, like The Love Guru. Anchorman 2, for all intents and purposes, should have been an easy slam-dunk. You have the entire original cast returning, plenty of juicy celebrity cameos and the blessing of fans everywhere. So why is it, then, that Anchorman 2 so horribly mucks things up?
I am a devoted fan of the original film. I remember seeing it in the theater with my two brothers and my dad, and at at the time, loving it. That love never really went away and I to this day find myself quoting the film, sometimes unknowingly. I always liked the idea of an Anchorman sequel, but never really wanted one too badly, as I felt the original film was very much lightning in a bottle and couldn’t be replicated. With news of the new film and the rumors that the likes of the notoriously picky Harrison Ford signing on in a key role, I got excited. It turned out to be all for naught, unfortunately, as A2 falls prey to the recycled joke disease that has plagued so many films throughout movie history. There were a few bright spots in the film, such as the scene where Will Ferrell has dinner with his boss’ family and tries to “assimilate” with them, and I’ll admit a few scenes made me laugh, but I was overwhelmingly insulted by the trend used in the film where they just took all the jokes from the first movie, put them in this movie and tweaked them all slightly.
I find it sad that the amount of talent on-screen here did not translate to quality comedy. There is always the argument that the naysayers will give you about “overthinking a stupid movie” or “reading too much into it”, but to that I suggest those people squarely A) Go fuck themselves and B) Take a look at Monty Python. Monty Python was, arguably, the greatest comedy group of all time. They were all Ivy League college students and grads who decided to set their sights on breaking down comedy and discovering what makes people laugh. Their success was a direct result of understanding what about stupidity is funny and using that to their advantage. Ferrell and his collaborator Adam McKay have that ability, as evidenced in their previous work together. Somehow here, however, they didn’t use that knowledge and instead copied and pasted from the first film. Maybe it was studio pressure, maybe it was a lack of genuine creative interest, but if anyone wants to honestly tell me that Anchorman 2 deserves to be spoken of in the same breadth as Anchorman, they need their head examined.
I used Mike Myers as an example earlier of how comedians sometimes mistake what the audience wants with what will actually work in a film, and to see that look no further than Austin Powers vs. Austin Powers 2 and 3. 3 and, to a lesser degree, 2, both have compromised elements that work against the finished product, such as shoehorning in Seth Green’s transformation into Doctor Evil. The problem is, when you take from earlier films in a series, no matter how funny/interesting the idea was the first time, but the second time you see it it feels wrong. Case in point, SPOILERS, the fight scene at the end of A2. I’m sorry, but I didn’t find one piece of that scene funny. Not only did most of those celebrity cameos do nothing for me, but the inclusion of ass-clown Kanye West was like a bitch-slap in the face of comedy. While in real life that guy is a walking punchline, the fact that a group of talented individuals I personally like and appreciate gave him a paycheck to star alongside them is betrayal on par with when William Wallace nearly slits Robert The Bruce’s throat in Braveheart.
This is but one example, but it is the freshest in my mind because it so thoroughly fails to deliver the goods, despite the effort. At the end of the day, what did I expect out of Anchorman 2? Not much. I certainly didn’t expected to be blindsided by laziness, sloppy writing and piss-poor casting choices, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. Fuck this movie, go rent the first one instead.