Anchorman 2: The Pursuit of Stupidity


Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)
Directed by Adam McKay
Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
119 min.

There’s a certain kind of joke that makes you groan.  Airplane! is built out of these jokes—every moment in Airplane! is a joke so cheesy, obvious, and bizarre in its construction that the only apt response is a groan and an eye roll.  This is a joyous, appreciative response.  The jokes work.  “Let’s get some pictures!”—and then all the reporters take pictures off the wall.  It’s so fucking stupid and obvious—yet something you’d never expect.  It’s playful and silly and not the least bit offensive.  And these jokes may appear simplistic, but they aren’t.

Invisibility is the best friend of style.  The more ‘obvious’ a joke may seem, often times, the more creativity there is underneath its surface.  The jokes in Airplane! are not ‘stupid’—they’re clever and advanced.  They are meta, esoteric, and the epitome of auteurism.

Anchorman, Wet Hot American Summer, Freddy Got Fingered, Spaceballs, and Airplane! are not only are they some of the greatest comedies of all time, they are some of the most interesting meta-artistic achievements of all time.

The world of each of these movies is a world of self-awareness.  The premise of each is, ‘look at how stupid it is that somebody literally gave us millions of dollars to create a gigantic piece of art which took us many months, maybe years, to create, and the end result is literally just us making up the dumbest things we can think of’.  Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered was essentially rejected by critics for being a culprit of this—everything that happens in that movie is a gigantic fuck you to the idea of movies existing in the first place.  It’s unfortunate that most critics are too non-versed in art to understand that when Tom is making crazy faces in a scene, the joke is not the faces, but the idea of the faces existing on film in the first place.

This is also the reason why most comedies are not funny.  Comedies presuppose that jokes, at face value, are funny.  They are not.  However, jokes, in the context of jokes being stupid, is funny—and is what ‘funny’ is, and how ‘funny’ operates.

The first Anchorman film is a shining example of this.  Anchorman is nothing more than 26 million dollars given to Will Ferrell and Adam McKay and their friends to do stupid stuff.  The ‘sex panther’ joke wouldn’t be funny in another movie—it’s funny in Anchorman because it’s occurring within that meta-premise.  The idea that Paul Rudd said it, and those dudes thought it was funny, is the joke, not the joke itself.  The first Anchorman has lots of jokes like this, and they aren’t funny—and they don’t need to be.  South Park—perhaps the most esoteric and hilarious piece of art of all time—is riddled with unfunny, easy jokes. It’s the nuance in between the jokes, the voice behind the piece, that makes it funny.

In a way, comedies like Anchorman are experimental films—they have a thread-bare narrative (which is, also, part of the joke) and are best likened to jazz—the meta-premise is the rhythm, and the jokes are the solos on top.  The actual plot means literally nothing, and these movies take full heed of that, often making fun of the idea of ‘narrative’ itself.

One of the best things about the first Anchorman—and proof positive that everything I’m saying is true—is that an entire other movie was edited out of the unused footage.  Apparently, an entire B-plot was scripted and filmed revolving around Kevin Corrigan, Maya Rudolph, and Chuck D running a revolutionary gang called The Alarmclock.  None of this plot was used in the original, so the filmmakers edited the material into an entirely new movie that serves as a companion piece.  It’s equally as funny as the original film because, again, the idea here is jokes based on a meta-premise—it’s just more of the same, but different.

Going into Anchorman 2, I was extremely skeptical.  I like Step Brothers a lot, but I was not impressed by Talladega Nights, which betrayed this premise and instead attempted more traditional jokes, as well as large, effects-driven, comedic set pieces (which fall flat).

Plus, it had red flags all over it—the running time of two hours, and the simple idea of cashing in on the original, but ten years later, just seemed like a needless venture.  Generally when people do this, they are hanging on to the nostalgia of making the first movie.  They are attempting to have the same fun they had ten years ago, but all the punk rock attitude and intention and guttural artistic mentality they once had is long gone.  This is why belated sequels are typically tepid, flat and overdone.  (I hope desperately that Dumb and Dumber To and the totally ill-advised Ghostbusters 3 prove me wrong.)

Fortunately, Anchorman 2 is the exception to the rule. It picks up right where the first one left off, and even creates deeper and more bizarre comedy touchstones than its predecessor.  My only issue is the aforementioned running time—the movie drags here and there.  Two hours is way too long, especially for a movie with no real arc to care about.  They easily could’ve scrapped or even condensed some of the subplots (if you can even call them that).  It appears that instead of fashioning two 90-minute movies out of the material like last time, the filmmakers were intent on throwing it all into the kitchen sink here, in order to keep up with the great shift in movie length since the first one came out.

It used to be that comedies were 90 minutes and dramas were two hours. But when Apatow started making two-hour plus comedies, the game changed.  Now, movies like The Dark Knight are expected to run 2 hours 30 or over, and comedies are expected to be 2 hours.  He changed the landscape, whether he intended to or not.  And the two-hour running times on his movies are pretty damning evidence of his non-talent as a director.  Apatow is a brilliant writer-producer—look no further than The Cable Guy. But as a director, he has no sense of pace or rhythm, and instead just allows his actors to improv like wild with four cameras running, and then puts it all together later.  That school of filmmaking renders boring, unwieldy scenes with no flow, and makes blatant the brilliance of Airplane!, Wet Hot American Summer, and the like, where design is key.  Shots are designed as visual jokes, and as such, can’t afford to eat up precious screen time with belabored dialogue.  These movies know what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. That takes skill—whereas, just about anybody can set up some cameras and have their friends talk about how gay each other is.

But, back to my runtime thing for a sec—I think the other reason for longer running times is to compete with TV and video games in the market place.  With ticket and concession prices rising, the movies have to seem bigger and better, so 3D, IMAX, and longer movies make up for that. That’s all boring though—let’s get back to Anchorman 2.

Some spoilers ahead.

I was especially impressed with the development of the Steve Carell character, Brick.  In the original, he is literally just a line machine, used to cut to for ‘random’ soundbites.  However, the second movie actually utilizes his odd brand of stupidity, and even explores it by giving him an equally bizarre love interest played by Kristen Wiig, who shines as his perfect mate.  Their ‘meet-cute’ scene is brilliant.

A joke from the film that encapsulates everything I’ve been talking about on every level is the lipstick joke. Kristen Wiig is playing with a lipstick and wondering what it is. Brick asks if it’s candy, and she replies that she thinks it is.  Brick takes a bite and disgustingly spits it out, then without hesitation just says, “It is candy”.  You can’t help but groan and roll your eyes.  But, like I said, the joke here is not the joke.  The joke is that that joke is so stupid and expected that to tell it is insulting—and that ‘insult’ is the joke.  That kind of joke encapsulates the esoteric wonder of Anchorman.

The movie really does up the ante in everything, from the weird—Ron raising a baby shark and setting it free—to the familiar—the culminating battle of the news teams really outdoes the first one. The casting and cameos are all on the mark (although fuck Kanye West, he shouldn’t have been in it) and the music selection and general celebration of 70s cheese is much more bombastic.

The subplots revolving around James Marsden, Maegan Good, Greg Kinnear, and Ron’s son all could’ve been truncated and tightened, although the film does make good use of them in their respective ending payoffs.  I was especially impressed by the entire third act, which finds Ron blinded and living in a lighthouse—the concept of living in a lighthouse holds very true to the entire premise of the Anchorman character.

Anchorman is a world of pompous, misplaced classiness. But you always get the sense that Ferrell and company revel in the lush nostalgia of their youth, even while they’re satirizing it, which is refreshing.  Also refreshing are the leaps into unabashed weirdness—occasionally, it seems like the idea was to go with whatever the weirdest idea was.  A good example being when Fantana asks Ron why he has a bag of bowling balls and a scorpion in his winnebego.  Then, when the winnebego crashes, the scorpion and balls violently hurt the news crew.  This scene means literally nothing to the plot or anything.

My absolute favorite moment is during one of the classic Anchorman four shots.  Anchorman strives to put Rob, Brick, Fantana, and Champ in a frame together—these are the most iconic moments, for example, their a cappella rendition of Afternoon Delight by The Starland Vocal Band from the first one.  This time, the group is in Brian’s house, all laughing over something stupid.  Then, on the cut to the next shot of them, the laughing abruptly stops.  This kind of aggressive editing joke represents a truly complete artistic integrity.

Good job, guys. I hope you make a third one.

1 out of 1 stars.

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