In the summer of 2004, a pair of American comedies arrived at the box office within just two weeks of each other. The first was Dodgeball, which starred the Saturday Night Live giants of the day and quickly became widely-quoted. The second was Anchorman. Almost an entire decade later, it’s difficult to recall a time when Adam McKay’s picture was an also-ran trailing in Dodgeball’s wake. And yet, while the memory of Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Ben Stiller-starring underdog story has faded somewhat, Anchorman has gradually grown to stratospheric proportions. So many of its lines have now become part of the cinematic lexicon – a word-of-mouth cult hit writ large.
Seemingly against all odds, co-writers McKay and Will Ferrell appear to have repeated their miraculous past feat. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) is hysterical – a giddy, rambling sequel that’s well-served by its scattergun approach to gags. At two hours in length, it’s inevitably indulgent and shambolic, but the laughs come fast and hard. To exaggerate a certain phrase, 80% of the time, it works every time. We follow Ron Burgundy’s (Ferrell) efforts to reunite his news team to start working at a pioneering 24-hour channel in eighties New York. When their old style fails to convince, Ron, Brian (Paul Rudd), Champ (David Koechner) and Brick (Steve Carell, pictured) quickly realise that, in the world of non-stop news coverage, it’s sometimes necessary to fabricate the stories people want to hear.
With the patchy track record of comedy sequels and the diminishing returns of the McKay/Ferrell canon, not to mention the decade gap since the original, Anchorman 2 could easily have been a disaster. But, like Steve Coogan with Norwich-based nincompoop Alan Partridge, Ferrell appears to have an innate understanding of what makes Ron Burgundy tick. The character feels consistent ten years on, and the actor finds a wealth of comic dividends in Burgundy’s ignorance and inflated self-belief. The lines are terrific, following the same surrealist flights of fancy as its predecessor. Crucially, Anchorman 2 keeps fan service to an acceptable level. There are myriad nods of acknowledgement to certain key moments that made the original work, but it steers clear of lame retreads.
What’s perhaps most surprising about McKay’s Anchorman 2, however, is its unexpected satirical edge. The film posits Burgundy as the symbolic death of real news, hilariously tackling the vagaries of 24-hour news, with speculation and politicisation filling the gaps between events. Oddly enough, the jovial, upbeat tone and broad-brush pot-shots are rather refreshing and a welcome contrast to the pious, Guardianista nature of a swathe of modern media criticism. It’s hardly Network (1976) or Broadcast News (1987), but the satire does work on its own terms and is a welcome addition to the frantic zaniness that Anchorfans have become so accustomed to.