Lately my friends and I have been exhibiting some signs of age. Joints are getting creakier and motors don’t start or move as fast. People suffer from balding and more serious ailments. Other people get married and have kids. Seemingly obvious things are forgotten. Tastes are…refined? There’s less tolerance for garbage, and the extraneous.
Of course, at the tender age of approximately 26, we’re not actually old. We’re just probably no longer young, and beginning to accept it.
What does any of that have to do with Anchorman 2? Like Lestrade and the other regular police officers in Sherlock, I began to have serious doubts about everything I believed. Lestrade thought he knew Sherlock, but Moriarty’s twisted web caused him to reconsider all of his assumptions about someone he thought he knew. I thought I was able to recognize and enjoy funny things, but Anchorman 2 left me shocked and confused. Maybe…maybe I’ve gotten too old to enjoy a good old Will Ferrell comedy.
I more or less zoned out for the last fifteen minutes of the movie to ponder these possibilities. I can’t remember the last time I outright could no longer watch a movie because of how unexpectedly horrible it was. I’ve purposely sat through all-time turds like Wicker Man and The Last Airbender because I was watching them to be entertained by their legendary awfulness (they didn’t disappoint). When Anchorman 2 finally came to an end, my friend Yen probably summed up the movie better than I could: “I feel like i just got slow-played.”
First, I dove into this movie having never seen the first Anchorman, which was by all accounts a classic. We expected good things, though I’m now not sure I’d ever want to watch any original movie that could have inspired this. We probably even subconsciously gave some scenes or gags the benefit of the doubt, in the same way you might have heightened respect for a comedian or act preceded by a good reputation. At some point, while Ron tries to get the old crew back together for another run at the news, we even thought that the gags were purposely shitty or crude at the beginning until Burgundy finally rounded all the troops up and they got back in their groove or something.
But no. This movie never got good. From the outset, it’s clear that Will Ferrell and the other actors are trying way too fucking hard to make every scene work. None of the material is any good, and things seldom build up beyond petty slapstick. How long can someone enjoy watching Will Ferrell’s face go through every shade of idiot? How many laughs can you wring out of Steve Carell, the same guy whose career took off with his brilliance in The Office, when he’s reduced to trying to rescue moments of insane stupidity by reaching every octave his voice can hit?
Pretty soon you’re wondering just how awful the jokes and gags can get. You’re wondering if you are supposed to be amused by how terrible everything is. Is that what’s funny here? That these dumb newspeople are such colossal fuck-ups that they can’t even be funny about it? But no, that can’t be right, because some of the jokes aren’t even about the acting. One of them is just about the fact that the news team all went and got perms. Yes…that was the punchline…Ron Burgundy suggests that they get perms, and they get perms. You are supposed to laugh at this. You’re also supposed to laugh at Burgundy’s kid, who is incredibly self-aware and well adjusted to the point of being weird because his stepfather after Burgundy’s divorce is a psychologist. But this kid’s delivery is so clunky, his body language so lacking life and wit that I at one point turned to my friend and asked if this kid’s lines were actually being dubbed. These are not the kinds of questions you want to be asking during a comedy. This movie had so many misses that it jarred me out of any immersion in the actual movie. It actually became more entertaining to question Anchorman 2’s place on the totem pole of filth than to actually finish watching it.
One question that I never managed to answer was: who is this movie aimed at? A young teenager might be entertained by the slapstick stuff, might find it funny that the crew is too stupid to realize that their winnebago’s cruise control doesn’t include steering, resulting in a car accident that unleashes some rocks to the head and scorpion pinches to the mouth. But would that same young teenager get the cynically dark humor behind how Burgundy’s news team started drawing praise and ratings once they stopped covering actual news? Would someone who is entertained that Burgundy’s only response to learning he has a black woman as a boss is to stutter “black….black….black” (was that supposed to parallel Austin Powers’ “mole” gag?) in front of her then also find it funny that she is more smitten with him than ever after learning more about just how incompetent and bigoted he is, including when he calls her family a bunch of ‘pipe-hittin bitches’?
And that bit about Burgundy’s boss (played by Meagan Good) at GNN leads me to the biggest question about this movie. And bear with me, because I actually considered tagging this post under Dystopian Diary. Why did all these otherwise good actors and actresses agree to do this movie? As far as I can tell, big time actors like Will Smith and Liam Neeson don’t need the money or the exposure. What they need even less is the stain of participating in Anchorman 2’s incomprehensibly drawn out literal war between the networks scene near the end. And…what? Sacha Baron Cohen is here too? The man who took trolling to new heights wants to be associated with perhaps the most awful skit in the entire movie?
None of it makes sense. Steve Carell has proven himself so much better than some psychotic squealing sidekick that I can’t fathom why he would stoop to such a level just to reprise his role in the series. Couldn’t he tell at some point that none of the jokes worked, and that his reputation might be tarnished from it? Vince Vaughn’s cameo comes in a scene where I would literally imagine some idiot in a theater audience saying, “oh look it’s Vince Vaughn! He’s funny, hahaha!” Why is Kanye in this movie?
I think only one sobering reality explains how all of this happened. There’s a low point in the movie for Ron Burgundy – he’s just gotten ousted from the network, he’s blind, his wife has left him, and he’s got nothing left until his news crew friends pay him a visit which marks the beginning of his turnaround. Maybe this is what happened to Will Ferrell. Maybe he was tired of doing voice roles and cameos, and wanted to craft his own hit featuring himself as its comedic center. Maybe all his friends in Hollywood both felt sorry for him and just how old and stale his buffoon act had become, wanted to associate themselves with the once-revered Anchorman name, and just agreed to come along for the ride while hoping they’d end up in a good movie. And maybe noone succeeded – or even tried – in getting through to him that he’d definitely lost any touch he had to begin with.
Finally, I’m not letting the large numbers of people who took to print trying to shine this shit and call it gold (yes Wire reference, perhaps the greatest show of all time which unsurprisingly had to fight for each season’s renewal and went unappreciated by most audiences) off the hook. I would call them out by name but there’s too many. Know that this movie got a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes (I soured on the quality of their judgments long ago, but this one was the nail in the coffin). Know that reviewers and critics from numerous ‘respectable’ outlets somehow didn’t tear this piece of garbage to shreds. Know what that means for how much reliability and integrity they have, and just how separated they truly are from the entertainment industry. If you’re going to watch this movie, read these critics’ reviews first and prepare to feel things that comedies usually don’t bring out of you…things like anger and disbelief. Consider that movies in general seem to have sucked more and more over the last few years, the few voices of daring and originality suffocated in a sea of greedily formulaic corporate sludge.
And wonder – possibly even accept – if you feel this way because you’re getting old.