Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

January 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

The period between 2001 and 2004 produced some of my favorite comedies of the modern era. There was a real stale period sometime after “American Pie” that made me think we had perhaps seen the end of the Great American Comedy Movie. Everything was either trying to copy the aforementioned “Pie” or “There’s Something About Mary”. Even the Farrelly Brothers seemed to be running out of steam coming into the 21st century. But then came a few comedies that gave me hope: “Zoolander” and “Old School”. These two films captured genuine humor that had been missing in the past few years, where the comedy seemed forced. Ben Stiller reached back into his sketch comedy roots to produce a full length feature film based on his popular character from MTV Video Awards sketches. The result was one of the funniest films I saw in years. I still love watching “Zoolander”. In 2003, there was “Old School”. Putting together a very strong cast of comic actors coupled with an entertaining story line made this a great addition to the Campus Comedy subgenre. Then, in 2004, we were treated to “Team America”, “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, and…

“Anchorman”. At the time, it wasn’t a huge hit and it received mixed reviews from critics. But my friends and I all loved it, loved quoting it, and it still remains a favorite of mine. I think it’s classic in the way “Caddyshack” and “Stripes” are of their respective times. This spawned what I call the Judd Apatow Era of comedies. Mixing raunchy humor with oddball characters that are strangely appealing and endearing, films like “Knocked Up” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” created a new avenue for adult comedies in the new millennium.

Through the years, the act has grown stale to be sure. It gets tiresome to see the same actors regurgitated in familiar plots, bloated run times, and release after release of the Unrated Versions of DVD’s.

Then a few years ago, there was talk of a sequel to “Anchorman”. I thought, “Oh no. It IS ‘Caddyshack’ all over again.” I didn’t like the idea at all, especially because “Anchorman” aged well on its own and could be considered a classic in its own right, without having an unnecessary sequel attached to it.

Last year, it was pretty official and we started seeing teaser trailers. By this time, I had put behind my reservations and tried to approach the sequel with an open mind. They were reuniting the entire cast, which back in 2004 was relatively unknown, and it would simply continue the story of Ron Burgundy into the 80’s, which I thought could be a great period to utilize since the 80’s are so popular now.

Well, after seeing the film, I can’t say that I am angry they made a sequel. But, I can’t quite recommend the film, either. “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” begins with Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) almost being eaten by a shark. Promising.

Then, we’re taken back to when Burgundy is co-hosting a weekend wrap up show with his wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), who now have a child, Walter (delightfully overplayed by Judah Nelson). They are approached by the network’s leading news anchor, Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford), who fires Ron but promotes Veronica to the nightly news anchor while he retires.

Ron doesn’t approve and it tears up their marriage, and also leaves Ron jobless (he’s also fired from Sea World). He’s then given an opportunity by someone working for an upcoming 24 hour news channel (Dylan Baker) who wants Ron to do the news again. At first Ron balks at the idea, but then after being allowed to include the rest of his news team, he accepts the opportunity and rounds up the gang.

This is where the film hits a fork in the road for me, and this is where it starts to head in the wrong direction. Instead of a story about Ron finding his friends again and creating a rivalry with his wife, there are simply endless scenes of banter that leave the film more quotable than memorable. There is a banal subplot between Ron and the leading producer, Linda (Meagan Good) that doesn’t lead to any real drama between them and Veronica. There’s an amusing but underused storyline of a rivalry between Ron and the new network’s lead anchor, Jack Lime (James Marsden, a real sport in this film). But where the film grinds to an unforgivable halt is the extremely sorry excuse for a comic love story between Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell) and a bumbling receptionist played by Kristen Wiig. I like both of these actors immensely and think they are talented, funny, and very smart. But their scenes are just nails on the chalkboard. They are obviously not scripted, and instead rely on that old standby in the Apatow Era–improv. But the improvised lines sound more forced than funny. Maybe if these were outtakes of the film, they’d be appealing. But as part of the narrative, these scenes just clang. And we don’t care about these characters, we were never meant to.

Burgundy’s character seems a bit out of tune at times, as well. He can be cocky, and stupid, like he was in the first film. But then it’s almost like Will Ferrell’s doing an impression of Ron Burgundy instead of being Ron Burgundy. There are times where his typically sharp wit is dulled and comes off as unrehearsed and sloppy. It also seems like at times he’s searching so hard for that really funny line to rival “a whale’s vagina” and instead just blurts something inane and dumb. Ferrell seems to have given all of his best lines to Dodge for the Durango commercials, which is a shame for this sequel.

There are laughs in the film, and I think the best line comes from Champ Kind (reprised nicely by David Koechner) when he’s discovered by Ron to be running his own fried chicken joint that actually sells bat wings and meat instead of chicken. When he’s asked about why, he says it’s cheaper. And besides, he says, bats are known as “chicken of the cave”.

The 24 news network, GNN, could have also served as a real juicy satire on oversaturated news. It’s even run by a greedy, over the top Australian (played by Josh Lawson). This had potential, and includes some jokes about how desperate the news can be for storylines; but it isn’t explored enough. Instead, we’re given a purposely off the wall and goofy subplot involving Ron becoming blind and raising a shark named Doby. I found that funny, especially since Ron goes way overboard on pointing out how blind he is–to the point that he tries brushing his teeth with a lobster. But it goes on too long, and the film stretches itself into so many half-hearted, hair-brained directions that it never really finds a focus or purpose. Oh, and there is another Newsteam Melee. While you may be impressed by the cameos…it really doesn’t do much else but make you say, “Oh look! It’s (insert name)”. What made the original fight so funny was not just the fight, but the joke was more about the fact that they can be actual “gangs”. That joke didn’t need to be repeated for the sequel.

It’s overindulgent and overlong, and while it has its moments of the original’s inspired brilliance, it just seems to be content as a send up of one-liners rather than a full blooded comedy film. It’s certainly not as abominable as “Caddyshack 2”, but it does share some of its slapdash demeanor.

Ron Burgundy could still be used in another sequel, as well as his appealing co-workers and supporting cast. I think next time they should work more on the script and less time trying to show off how funny they are. We already know they are. Now put a story behind it, and make a funny movie.

My rating: :?

Funny People

August 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

It’s evident that the last 5 or so years of American comedy cinema has been dominated by Judd Apatow. Apatow, a mere footnote in the 80’s and 90’s, producing failed comedy shows and dramadies like “Freaks & Geeks”, has become extremely prominent in the world of film, whereas his television career just came to a grinding halt. For him, that’s fine–for us, the audience, it’s been a great ride. I’ve enjoyed his films thoroughly, from “The 40 Year Old Virgin” to “Knocked Up” and “Superbad”, and although I’ve griped from time to time about the running times, the characters in the films and the talented actors he’s used far more than made up for the overlongness of the films.

Now Apatow brings us somewhat of his attempt at a masterpiece. This one has a “serious” plot. While we’re used to Adam Sandler movies being goofy and childish, he’s starting to pry into the world of dramatic roles, and though his success hasn’t been as great as Bill Murray’s or Jim Carrey’s, he’s still grown as an actor. In “Funny People”, Sandler plays George Simmons; a version of Sandler himself, and just as successful. But this version of Sandler is the sad clown–he has no wife, or kids. He has no friends. He is all alone in his mansion, and he jokes at one point at a comedy club: “Guys always tell me ‘Oh my wife’s great. She’s a great cook.’ Really? Well I have a great cook, who is an actual cook. ‘Oh my wife, she’s my best friend.’ Yeah? My cook’s a pretty good friend, too.”

But Simmons did have a love of his life once. Laura, played by Leslie Mann, is the estranged former flame who is now married with her own kids (played by Apatow’s real-life children), and has no interest in rekindling even a friendship with Simmons. Simmons then finds out he has a blood disease that could be fatal. He is put on radical medication that is only in its testing stage, but it’s his only shot at being cured. When he finds this out, he goes to a comedy club and is extremely down, but no one knows why. Enter Ira Wright (played by Seth Rogen) who is a struggling up-and-coming comedian who gigs at the Improv for only 5 minutes and works at a deli for “a living”; he meanwhile rooms with two more successful people–Leo (Jonah Hill), also a comedian; and Mark (played by Jason Schwartzman) who is an actor in a hit sitcom on NBC called “Yo! Teach!”, a horrible send up of what we usually get on the tube on a nightly basis (and yes, it’s on purpose that they made it that bad). Ira performs and impresses George, and he hires him as a writer for his newer material.

The two form a friendship and George helps Ira’s career as he allows Ira to also open for him at gigs as well as write jokes. George also tells Ira about his blood condition, and Ira is the only one who knows about it.

While this is the most complicated plot Apatow has worked with, he seemed to handle all of the different storylines well for the first two acts of the film. But by the third act, the movie seems to try and pull itself into two or three different directions, and by the time it finds its focus in the conclusion, we’re a bit lost on what the movie was actually about.

On the one hand, it’s about a friendship, mentor/student relationship between George and Ira. On the other hand, it’s about a lost love situation that George tries to rekindle and gets caught up in, when he shouldn’t. Then, there’s also a love interest for Ira as well, and a plot involving the fact that Ira was supposed to tell Leo that both of them were going to write for George, and Leo gets mad at Ira for not telling him. It’s evident that Apatow takes on too much for himself to handle, and unfortunately, the movie proves he’s not the stellar screenwriter he may think he is, or others may think. I’ve heard Oscar buzz already about this movie. If this film is nominated for best screenplay, I’m going to give up my dreams of ever becoming a screenwriter, because all would be lost!

It’s frustrating that this film falls apart in the end. I really wanted to like it. In some ways I really did. There are scenes I’d love to watch over and over again. Some of the cameo scenes are fantastic. But as a film, which clocks in at about 136 minutes, it just doesn’t work overall. And that’s a real shame because Apatow has shown a command behind the camera, and as a writer. I think he lost a little touch of reality in this one, and instead of getting “Guernica”, we get a finger painting.

I think he should not try so hard to make a masterpiece, and just let the next story flow naturally. And…seriously, he needs to watch the running times. Comedies should not be over two hours long. It’s just not right.

I’m not giving this a passing grade, but I do think it’s worth a viewing, on DVD or on cable. But I wouldn’t go out to the theatre, unless you want to spend half your afternoon there, and come away somewhat disappointed and confused on why such a wonderful first hour of a film turned into a mess.

My rating: :???:

Observe and Report

April 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Writer/director Jody Hill goes for dark humor, and it’s brazenly illustrated in this uber dark comedy that has a lot of similarities to his new HBO sitcom, “Eastbound & Down” which I think is a very promising show and I’m glad it’s being continued. Seth Rogen’s character, Ronny, is somewhat like EB&D’s “hero”, Kenny Powers. He is self-unaware, and a low life. But Rogen has more charm to him and has the ability to make you laugh with him, and Danny McBride’s approach to Kenny Powers is a little more cynical.

The film follows the misadventures of a rent-a-cop head of mall security, but not in the way “Paul Blart” did. This has a very different approach. Instead of Ronny being bumbling and stupid, he is focused and arrogant. He is determined to catch a pervert who’s been flashing people in a parking lot. He has a posse of mall security cops that are just caricatures but in a way they are amusing. The main interest is Ronny’s pursuit of not only being The Man of the mall, but also becoming a real police officer, and winning the heart of the perfume & make-up counter at a department store–resident glam slut, Brandi. Fortunately for me, Anna Farris actually plays down her role a bit. While her imposing “Look at how obnoxious I am because I’m being ironical!” demeanor is still distracting to me, she actually did get me to laugh a few times.

Once the pervert has done his deeds, a resident detective (Ray Liotta) comes into the story, and Ronny instantly resents him because he’s “taking over Ronny’s case”. He instantly makes the detective resent him, and the usual ensues: detective takes Ronny to place where Ronny should get killed, but Ronny doesn’t. Ronny gets himself into some trouble while trying to “defend” the mall, and since he has “mental issues”, he isn’t allowed to become a cop. Even his drunk mother, who stands by him the entire time, cannot help his situation. But Ronny does charm the heart of a counter girl at a fast food joint who gives him free coffee every day, even when he “should be paying for it”.  There is a very good performance that may go overlooked but I want to point out Collette Wolfe who plays the counter girl Nell, has a scene that actually made me choke up a bit. I hope some scouts take note–she is very promising.

While the movie is dark, and at times a bit over-the-top, it does have its moments of sweetness. The film works overall. It’s not a masterpiece, and it’s not even as funny as it probably should be. There are some laugh out loud moments, but there is so much depravity going on that sometimes it’s hard to find the humor in it. In the end, it’s still enjoyable and I think Seth Rogen has proven again he can be a leading man and not just a side character. His acting ability has definitely grown.

My rating: :smile: