2004's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," starring Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, and Steve Carell as an inept but beloved group of local news reporters, wasn't a smash right out of the gate. In fact, it was something of a financial disappointment, especially given the cost and complexities of the movie being a period comedy.
But, like "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" before it, it became a cult sensation as it made its way to home video, and is now endlessly quoted by just about everybody. After years in development limbo, a sequel was finally green lit. And here we are, almost 10 years later, with "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" (for simplicity's sake we're forgoing the pseudo-sequel "Wake Up Ron Burgundy," a kind of alternate sequel that was cobbled together from extraneous bits of footage from the first film and released on deluxe versions of the DVD and Blu-ray).
"Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" sees Burgundy and company entering the '80s and the world of 24-hour news, with the crew comfortably moving to Manhattan for the gig. Joining the entire returning cast are Kristen Wiig (as Carell's love interest), Harrison Ford (as a veteran newsman), James Marsden (as Burgundy's cable news rival), and Meagan Good (as Ron's new lover). Dylan Baker, who has had a fine career playing noteworthy weirdos, also has a huge role as the cable channel liaison who recruits the team... for some reason. Maybe there's a reason that he's dressed up like Ed Helms?
Anyway, with a sequel this anticipated, the question is, does it live up to the hype? Or does it die before its first commercial break? Read on to find out.
1. It's the Funniest Movie of the Year
Quite frankly, I can't remember the last time I laughed this consistently and this hard in a mainstream comedy. Walking out of the theater I felt like I had done five thousand crunches. This is both a testament to how horribly out of shape I am and how funny "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" really is. Ask the unfortunate friend who was sitting next to me: I was in stitches, for the whole damn time. Not only is it the funniest movie of the year, hands down, but it might be the funniest movie of the past few years. Yes, seriously.
2. You Can Kind of Understand Why It Took So Long to Get Made
It's really bizarre. Like, incredibly bizarre. I can't go into why it's so weird (that would spoil the silly fun) and it's never weird to the point that it's alienating for the audience. But still. You can see why director Adam McKay and Ferrell had a tough time getting this thing off the ground.
3. Maybe It Would Have Worked as a Musical
One of the original ideas for "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" was that it was going to be a musical. In fact, it was going to be workshopped on Broadway for six months and then everyone would have reunited to shoot the movie. That's a nutty idea, but you can see how it could have worked... Maybe. There's one original song, but we can't give away what it is... There are certainly musical crests and valleys and an "Anchorman" Broadway musical kind of sounds like the greatest thing ever. So hopefully they will circle back to this idea at some point.
4. There Are Cameos Galore
Seriously. So many cameos. But it's a testament to the creativity of McKay and Ferrell that none of them stand out and make shows of themselves. They are just kind of woven into the tapestry of the movie. Like a Muppet movie or something. But man are they good -- and coming from people you would never expect, in a million years, would show up in some goofy scene for fifteen seconds. Kudos all around.
5. Everyone's Hair Is Even More Ridiculous Than the 'American Hustle' Cast's
True, the seventies were goofy, as "American Hustle" goes out of its way to remind us. But "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," also reminds us that '80s hair was just as bad -- or, in many ways, worse. Few movies capture that awkward transition between decades, when fashion and cultural trends bleed over, but "Anchorman 2" does. And it's hysterical.
6. It's Smarter Than You Think
There's always been a sly and subversive edge to McKay's movies, which is most apparent in his last feature, "The Other Guys," a goofball buddy cop movie that was also about the American financial system and white collar crime. In "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," the director takes aim at the emptiness of the modern-day news cycle and the potential corruption behind giant corporations both being the news and reporting on it. It's pretty ballsy. And totally appreciated.
7. There Aren't as Many Callbacks as You'd Think
This could have easily been a factory that would just spit out little carbon copies of jokes from the first movie. Thankfully, there are only a handful of instances that feel like they're calling back to the original movie and when they do make those connections, they're almost always undercut or elaborated upon or made different somehow. This is not a retread. It's its own brand of oddness.
8. Everything Will Ferrell Says Is Gold
Watching "Anchorman 2," you can understand why Ferrell was so game to record 70 Dodge Durango commercials and make countless television appearances in character. He is Ron Burgundy. And while the movie could have been walking around and doing the shtick, it would have probably worn pretty thin. It's a testament to Ferrell as both a co-writer and performer that he wanted to push the character into uncomfortable new places that are, honestly, kind of surprising and emotionally engaging. The last time a comedic performer and his on-screen persona were melded so seamlessly might be Peter Sellers and his Inspector Clouseau. That's not exactly faint praise. Ferrell knocks it out of the park. And anyone who thinks he's just making funny faces is missing the point; this is a fully fleshed out character.
9. Adam McKay Might Be the Most Important American Comedy Director Since Woody Allen
While McKay's producing partner, Judd Apatow, (who also returns for this go around) gets an insane amount of attention for his directorial efforts, he's a filmmaker who lacks style and a sense of narrative drive. Apatow's movies exist without ever living. McKay, on the other hand, is a director who is totally fearless. He'll mix emotionally resonate sequences with complete absurdity; sequences that are heartfelt are jammed up against moments that border on the surreal. And he weaves between these two extremes with absolute precision. His movies also look beautiful; way more colorful and engaging than the Apatow joints, which are totally flat and bright. Watching "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," the thought occurred to me that McKay might be the most important American comedy director since Woody Allen. And it's 100% true. He's got a distinct point of view and personality and is able to skewer big topics while still making wholly entertaining confections that, if you don't want to look under the hood, you can still enjoy on a totally superficial level. It's absolute genius. There's something insidiously clever about McKay. And a reason that every movie he makes shouldn't just be viewed as "another studio comedy" but as a genuine event in American cinema. "Anchorman 2" is one of these events.
10. If This Is the Last 'Anchorman' Movie, You'll Feel Satisfied
Listen, we've waited for nearly 10 years. If this is the last set of adventures for Ron Burgundy and his cadre of demented newsmen, I'd be satisfied. Not that I don't want to see 10 more movies starring these goofballs, because I do. But it's such a full and satisfying feast, that, should this be the last "Anchorman" movie, I'd be okay with it. Stay classy, planet earth.
"Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" is in theaters now.