The Pitch: Breaking news.
The Review: You know that thing? That thing where you’re at a party with some close friends, and you throw out an off the cuff remark that everyone finds unexpectedly funny, and you then spend the rest of the evening trying to match that comment and occasionally coming off as both funny and clever but never quite living up to that first comment? That.
Why see it at the cinema: If you’re an…
What, you want an actual review? Oh, go on then.
This isn’t going to hold too many surprises. So, I could spin this out with fancy words, possibly even a graph or a poem, but if you’ve seen the original, you’ll probably like this. It is two hours more of Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Steve Carell being Ron, Brian, Champ and Brick. If the sound of Ron Burgundy’s man child is like nails down a metaphorical blackboard, then this is just going to be a bunch more nails on a highly polished blackboard. If your not an Anchor-fan, move along, nothing to see here.
There is both a plot and a subplot of sorts. The plot revolves around Ron Burgundy’s initial fall from grace, which sees him fired from the network by intimidating anchor Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford) while his wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is promoted. Down on his luck and in a dead-end job commentating on dolphins at a water park, Burgundy is offered a lifeline by producer Freddy Shapp (Dylan Baker) at new 24 hour news network GNN. Burgundy and his reassembled news team come instantly into conflict with hotshot anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) and feisty producer Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). Ron also has to deal with the consequences of his separation from Veronica, her new partner Gary (Greg Kinnear) and their son caught up in the separation, as well as newfound romantic feelings for Linda. If that wasn’t enough, Brick is also forming a romantic attachment to like minded simpleton Chani (Kristen Wiig).
Everything you liked about the first film is back here, from unexpected songs to rapidly escalating fights. You’ll not be surprised to hear Brick still doing his best impersonation of a live action Ralph Wiggum with added shouting, Champ behaving generally inappropriately and ignorantly, Brian keeping more stores of lovemaking material in his secret wall cabinet and Ron frequently misunderstanding the most basic of situations. Despite his many and varied flaws, Ron remains the glue that binds the group together and the group works as well as ever, the four leads slipping effortlessly back into their roles. Rumours about that there exists a second cut of the film with different takes of all the jokes, but the random improvisation feels slightly more forced this time out (compare and contrast “Great Odin’s Raven!” with “By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!”). Despite a reputation for this kind of improv humour, it’s the big set pieces which often work best here, including a trip to the city in a Jesus-covered Winnebago and an extended sequence on a lighthouse.
There is a little innovation here, mostly in the supremely broad satire suggesting that Burgundy and his crew were inadvertently responsible for the state of rolling news today. The voiceover is more heavily used than in the first film, Bill Curtis’ deep tones explaining the simplest of plot points for anyone who sees Brick as an intellectual role model. Mostly though, Anchorman 2 gets by on new riffs on old material and certainly feels very familiar: for example, the battle of the sexes between Ron and Veronica in the original is instead replaced by a culture clash between Ron and Linda’s family in a spectacularly offensive dinner table scene this time around. Sometimes that familiarity works against the film, but when it works in its favour (such as in the climactic anchor fight, taking the original and amping it up by a factor of 10, and well handled by director Adam McKay) then Anchorman 2 is very funny indeed. It has no real pretensions to anything other than very silly, and it achieves that goal often enough to be considered a reasonable success. Did the world need more Ron Burgundy? Probably not. Does it feel marginally more laboured than the original? Undoubtedly yes. Should the world breathe a heavy sigh of relief that they managed not to screw it up completely? Definitely. You stayed classy, Ron Burgundy. Just.
Why see it at the cinema: If you’re an Anchorman fan, then see it with the biggest crowd you can to make the most of the laughs. Ideally, before someone spoils all of the surprises for you.
What about the rating? Rated 15 for infrequent strong sex references and hard drug use. Remember kids, taking crack is bad, mmm’kay?
My cinema experience: Took a half day from work to catch this at the first screening of the day in the Cineworld Bury St Edmunds. There was a surprisingly large crowd, no doubt due to the close proximity to Christmas, and the crowd were all clearly well up for it given their heavy laughter at the Last Vegas trailer (which I’ve now seen around a dozen times). Thankfully this laughter carried over into the film itself and enhanced my viewing pleasure no end. You stay classy, Bury St Edmunds.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: The two most prominent comedy schools of the twenty-first century have been the Adam McKay-Will Ferrell type movies with mainly madness and shouting, and the Judd Apatow, more observational style, although the two have shared common acting talent. Paul Rudd and Steve Carell have appeared together in one of each (Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin), and now align themselves with director Jay Roach, who himself has spawned two key comedy franchises in the Austin Powers and Fockers sagas. Quite a wide variety of styles, but Dinner For Schmucks attempts to mine yet further comedic deposits, including the discomfort-style comedy of Carell’s own The Office remake, but the predominant tone here is altogether more screwball.
This is, of course, a remake of the Nineties French movie Le diner de cons, with two major structural differences – that movie didn’t actually have the dinner at its conclusion, whereas here the conclusion is the dinner itself (don’t worry, that’s not a significant spoiler), but also that there was nothing but entertainment as a motive for the original’s dinner, whereas Schmucks raises the stakes for Paul Rudd’s Tim so that he must be successful at the dinner and also in his other endeavours. Crucial to this is finding the right schmuck, and Tim quite literally runs into Steve Carell’s Barry, a kind hearted simpleton who produces dioramas from roadkill mice. So we have some stakes, and they are raised as soon as Barry comes into Tim’s life with the complications that Barry immediately and inadvertently causes for Tim’s love life.
Your tolerance for what follows will depend entirely on the good will you have for Messrs. Carell and Rudd. For the first hour of the movie has the occasional chuckle, is sporadically funny, but is also packed full of set pieces that lead you to question what kind of comedy you’re actually watching. Dinner For Schmucks is described in the opening titles as “inspired by”, but in the process the writers appear to have taken too many of the direct elements from their original and nothing really gels together. Or indeed, is actually anything other than toe-curlingly embarrassing at some points, most notably a subplot featuring Lucy Punch as a clingy former one-night stand. There’s also jeopardy on the love interest angle – Jermaine Clement plays the weirdo artist with a commendable straight face, but there’s very little to offer of interest in that story early on.
Then something happens as we get closer to the dinner itself – Barry’s nemesis at work, Therman (Zack Galifianakis) comes into the story, and suddenly Barry’s tale takes on a huge amount of pathos and you find yourself rooting for him, despite yourself and despite the fact that at times he’s taken decisions which seem purely driven to be annoying, rather than true to the character. But the final dinner arrives, all of the characters, including David Walliams’ bizarre Swiss moneyman and the other schmucks, come together in what turns out to be a very funny and well constructed conclusion, as the respective idiocies all have a bearing on the final outcome in the manner of a classic farce. If you can last until the final third, the dinner is worth the wait and elevates the whole enterprise by several degrees, but if you’re not big Carell / Rudd fans, you may struggle to last that long.
Why see it at the cinema: To take in the full intricate and poignant details of Barry’s mouse dioramas in their wonderful detail. There’s a mouse Jesus! What more could you want?
The Score: 6/10