By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He's in your fridge, on your bookshelf and taking over your television screen. But as "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" brings back a cult comedy classic, has fictional leading man Ron Burgundy sold out?
The answer is "yes." Even the director said so.
In anticipation of the opening of "Anchorman 2" in U.S. theaters on Wednesday, the chauvinistic San Diego anchorman, played by comedian Will Ferrell, has promoted Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Dodge Durangos, written a memoir, anchored the news in North Dakota, and served as roving reporter for the MTV Video Music Awards. And that's just a short list of his stints.
His invasion of the mass market prompted some grumbling among die-hard fans across social networks: Ron Burgundy had become too mainstream, they said, and less likable to the niche audience of the first film.
"Ron Burgundy is a sellout," Adam McKay, the film's writer-director, told Reuters. "The whole joke of the character is that he is a complete and total sellout, so it makes us laugh to see him doing the news and selling cars."
McKay said the cult thing is over for the second film, which is a much more lavishly promoted release than the July 2004 film about the 1970s anchorman. Made by Paramount Pictures for a budget of $50 million, "Anchorman 2" could earn $55 million over its first five days, estimated Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co.
"Anchorman 2" picks up the story of the suit-clad and mustachioed Ron Burgundy, described as "more man than the rest," a decade after the first film, when he has been reduced to becoming an alcoholic SeaWorld announcer after losing his anchor job to his now estranged wife, Veronica Corningstone.
By a stroke of luck, Ron Burgundy is scouted for a new global news cable channel, and reunited with his news team - played by Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner - as they take on New York City's world of broadcast news, and unknowingly usher in a new era of news known as "infotainment."
"American news has become really driven by ratings and entertainment. I think people working in broadcast news would even agree with that," said McKay, who directed the first "Anchorman" film and co-wrote it with Ferrell. "So the idea of making all of that Ron Burgundy's fault was too funny to pass up."
THE RISE AND FALL OF RON BURGUNDY
After the first film's jokes became quotable fodder for fans, McKay and Ferrell had to find new material for the beloved characters. They excluded a number of pop-culture touchstones such as Ron Burgundy's sign-off, "You stay classy, San Diego."
A few touches of homage, including Ron Burgundy's jazz flute and Brian Fantana's "Sex Panther" cologne, make brief appearances, as well as a second round of the news gang fight, featuring cameos from some comedy greats who the writers wanted to keep a surprise.
"For a percentage of people, it'll never measure up to the first one. But we wanted to take a big swing, not be timid, and create a movie that continues to surprise," said Ferrell, a co-writer of the film.
In "Anchorman 2," Burgundy once again rises to the top, but faces obstacles both in his personal and professional life, as he dates his black female boss (Meagan Good), faces off with a younger, more handsome anchorman (James Marsden), tries to be fatherly toward his son, and loses his eyesight. McKay compared his journey to that of the hero in a Greek tragedy.
"The whole legend of Ron Burgundy is all about rising and falling, so we had to think of some crazy way for him to fall again, and the idea of him going blind just really made us laugh," said McKay, whose friendship with Ferrell goes back to the mid-1990s, when Ferrell joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" and McKay was a writer on the show.
The first "Anchorman" film was made for $25 million and distributed by DreamWorks. It featured a cast of comedians who were rising stars, including Ferrell and Carell, and grossed $90 million at the worldwide box office. The second film reunited the original cast and turned a bigger spotlight on Carell's Brick Tamland, a weatherman with a very low IQ, who won over fans with strange and nonsensical phrases such as "I love lamp," and who finds love with a quirky, eccentric character played by Kristen Wiig.
"Steve Carell is so great to work with that it just seemed natural to amp him up, and the love affair was really the key idea to understanding him," McKay said.
While McKay and Ferrell are both anxiously awaiting how audiences respond to "Anchorman 2," Ferrell already has some ideas about how he'd like to see the characters evolve, if a third film becomes a reality.
"Watching Ron and the news team decide to buy a newspaper and think they can bring it back to life, and them dealing with print - that's considered the purest form of journalism. That could be a funny world for them," Ferrell said.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jan Paschal)