By Drew Taylor | The Playlist March 2, 2014 at 11:00AM
Earlier this week, Paul Rudd visited “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” to welcome Fallon to his new gig as host and, ostensibly, to plug the rerelease of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” which begins a weeklong run in an extended, R-rated cut this weekend. When the always-excitable Fallon asked Rudd what the longer cut was like, Rudd paused and said, “It’s just weird.” This is the easiest way to describe the new version of “Anchorman 2,” an oversized comedy so shapeless and bizarre that it borders on being experimental. Gone is any sense of pacing or propriety; in its place is sheer, go-for-broke goofiness. It doesn’t always work, but it’s probably the most fascinating thing being released in theaters this weekend.
This rerelease is sort of unprecedented. Adam McKay had toyed with the idea of putting out an alternate version of the movie—with all of the jokes that made the final cut swapped out for different jokes—and having that version run exclusively at midnight during the movie’s initial theatrical engagement. There are, however, rules against this sort of thing, as Robert Zemeckis found out a few years ago when he tinkered with the idea of releasing an NC-17-rated version of his mo-cap monster movie “Beowulf” to IMAX theaters while the tamer, PG-13 version played on regular screens. So McKay waited until “Anchorman 2” had made its money and is now releasing this longer, loopier cut in theaters for a week.
On a narrative level, this longer version of “Anchorman 2” is almost identical. All of the beats are hit, at almost exactly the same time. Newsman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) moves to New York with his co-anchor and wife Veronica (Christina Applegate). When she assumes the position of a national news anchor, he’s fired and eventually becomes a trailblazer in the world of gossipy, 24-hour news (along with his crack team composed of Rudd, David Koechner, and Steve Carell). The prolonged section of the movie where Burgundy is blind and confined to a lighthouse is intact, as is the relationship subplot between Carell’s Brick and Kristin Wiig’s equally nutty Chani. If you’ve seen the version of the movie released in theaters this past December, then you more or less know what you’re getting with this version (and if you haven’t seen that version, then you really have no business watching this one—it’s for die-hards only).
Where this version of “Anchorman 2” differs is in the general shape of the movie. For example, a sequence that originally lasted a handful of moments, in which Burgundy tries to explain the situation of his firing to his young son Walter, stretches out to what feels like a fifteen-minute aside, with Ferrell riffing on what it’s like to drink a tall glass of, in his words, “frothy horse piss.” (This new version puts a premium on bodily functions.) Elsewhere, we get a glimpse of the original version of “Anchorman 2” that was proposed, where it would have been a musical workshopped on Broadway with all the original actors before being committed to film. While the song that is dedicated to Ron’s pet shark has been needlessly omitted, there is a longer, stranger musical number in its place called “It’s a Big World” that includes an interlude called “The Gay Way.”
As you can imagine, with a 2 hour and 23 minute-long version, most of the sequences are longer, more doodle-like versions of the tighter things that ran in the theatrical cut. Sometimes this just drags on and on, and robs the original version of its zingy power, since so many wild ideas were competing for a relatively brief amount of running time. But just as often, the movie’s inner oddness reveals itself, like when Burgundy does an impression of the Elephant Man, or a wonderful, super-meta moment when the fate of the newscast hangs in the balance and Rudd calmly says, “Well, we’ll see how this one does at the box office.” The other characters act baffled and it’s absolutely hysterical.
Most of the time this feels like a collection of deleted scenes, of stuff that you were never meant to see—especially on a giant screen with digital sound, surrounded by strangers (most of whom, in our screening, were more befuddled than entertained). During the big sequence towards the end of the movie where the news team gets embroiled in a giant, cameo-stuffed battle, there are some great additional gags (Marion Cotillard on unrest in Canada: “Sometimes people’s feelings get hurt and the lake freezes over”), but more noticeable is the way McKay intercuts the sequence with Ron’s son’s piano recital. He keeps cutting back to what are quite obviously old man hands, but you can’t tell if it’s actually a joke or if this is such a rough version of the movie that the filmmakers never had time to properly replace the old man hands with little kid hands.
The main thing that you come away with from the extended version of “Anchorman 2” (which, by the way, barely earns its R-rating—it’s got a couple more “fucks” but that’s about it), is that McKay is some kind of cracked visionary. He’s a filmmaker unafraid to go to the wildest place possible and willing to work with the studio from that point to something more manageable and easily consumable. The extended “Anchorman 2” is like a portal into the creative process of McKay and Ferrell: riffing, trying everything, adding a cheapo flying bat to a supposedly steamy sex scene. When the announcement was made that “Anchorman 2” was returning to theaters, McKay demurred, saying that it was really only for the dedicated faithful. And it’s true: seeing this new version separates the anchor-boys from the anchormen. [B]