This movie takes place in 1980, which is the year that the cable news
network CNN first went on the air, and the movie is essentially a
comedic and satiric look at how that network started and thirty years
later what the complaints are about cable news, particularly the
complaints lobbied by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. After over a decade of doing it, Stewart has already made the best jokes and Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report since 2005 has done in a smarter way what Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy does in a dumber way.
Will Ferrell stars as Ron Burgundy, a former San Diego news anchor who is quite possibly the worst news anchor in the history of TV news. He's rightly fired from his regular, local gig, but he's recruited to be a host on the first 24-hour cable news channel, known as Global News Network or GNN. Yet, many are skeptical as to how the network will provide that amount of content day-in-and-day-out and what the value of that amount of content will be. Even though GNN is the stand-in for CNN, what we quickly see is this movie is more of an origin story for the FOX News Channel.
Harrison Ford guest stars. Ironically, Ford recently starred in a movie about the TV news called Morning Glory (2010) and in that film the same issues are addressed, that of substituting hard news or boring news that provide substantive information or important and objective, qualified facts with fluffy, human interest stories, sensationalism or tabloid stories that are merely loud and flashy for no other sake than attracting viewers and boosting ratings.
The fact that the news channel is owned by a corporation or a conglomerate with other financial interests that then negatively influences or dictates journalistic decisions is a factor here. That factor harkens back to George Clooney's Good Night, And Good Luck. Pressing Senator Joseph McCarthy is however replaced with exposing a greedy company that makes faulty and possibly deadly airplane parts.
Burgundy is the usher of this tabloid, sensational and bribed form of news delivery, a shock jock in front of the camera, a base panderer and TV junk food salesman. Burgundy is a man who won't sell you crack or cocaine but will for all intents and purposes shove it in your face. He's not completely heartless and Ferrell does build to a Howard Beale-like moment à la Network (1976), but make no mistake. Ferrell and co-writer / director Adam McKay are no Paddy Cheyefsky.
As clever as it was to have Burgundy be the progenitor of the worst instincts of cable news, Ferrell and McKay's movie fails on a lot of the relationships here. I suppose because it's a sequel that much is taken for granted, but I had problems not only with returning characters but also new ones as well.
I liked Linda Jackson, played by Meagan Good. Linda is an executive at GNN and I appreciated her tough and aggressive behavior to get the job done, but to have her be sexually attracted to Burgundy was a step too far. She's better when she's kicking him in the balls, not kissing him on the lips.
Before Burgundy can even go back on the air and sit in the anchor's seat, he has to assemble like The Avengers his news team, much in the same way Frank Sinatra did in Ocean's Eleven (1960) or even how Kermit the Frog did in The Muppets (2011). Burgundy starts with Champ Kind, the sports reporter who is racist, a McCarthyist, a psycho restaurateur and possibly a closeted, gay man. Next, Burgundy grabs Brian Fantana, the so-called Quincy Jones of cat photography and finally Brick Tamland, a weatherman whose sole defining quality is his stupidity and child-like, social stuntedness.
With the exception of Brick, played by Steve Carell (The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine), none of the other back-up dancers to Burgundy get any kind of play or character arc. I wonder if that was the case, mainly because Carell is a more bankable star than Paul Rudd who plays Brian and David Koechner who plays Champ. Rudd has been the lead in movies like I Love You, Man (2009) and Wanderlust (2012) but those movies haven't made the kind of money that Carell's leading films has. This might have dictated that Carell get a separate storyline with Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids and MacGruber) who plays Brick's love interest and female equivalent, Chani.
Brick and Chani's romance made for good filler, but there were things happening with the other characters that I wish were explored. For example, despite his homophobic statements, it's highly implied that Champ is gay. Another example is Brian's investigative journalism that uncovers a great story. Yet, we never see him working on that story, or displaying that kind of aptitude.
At the end of the day, none of that matters. Ferrell is so dominant in all of his scenes that whatever interest arises in any one else is almost immediately eclipsed when Ferrell speaks. His commitment to this character and to certain bits is very funny. There were a lot of black and transgender jokes that I didn't think worked. Some editing choices felt awkward like a very clunky cut to a scene between Burgundy and his son Walter.
Yet, there remains two hilarious set pieces. The first is the Winnebago crash, which a recent trailer mercilessly ruins and the saturated, news battle at the end, which mimics a similar fight scene from the previous 2004 film. The adoration from Ferrell's friends in Hollywood for his character is on full display, as the screen explodes with celebrity cameo after celebrity cameo. It was over-the-top and ridiculous but it did have me laughing.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.