How the mighty have fallen. Adam McKay was, for a time, one of the comedy masterminds of the 2000s. Sadly, he has made some heinous misfires in the past few years that have largely tanked his reputation.
At the same time, it would be a disservice to write off all the great works he has delivered. McKay’s comedies are still some of the best of the past twenty years and at least one of his more serious fare is a great and informative watch. He is a man that has enjoyed high crests and low troughs. Without further ado, the films of Adam McKay from worst to best.
8. Don’t Look Up (2021)
Don’t look up is the clear weak spot in McKay’s filmography. It’s the type of patronizing piece of work that makes viewers more distant from the message the film is conveying. Don’t Look Up was promised as a biting satire making fun of the complacency of humans in the face of their own destruction, but it ended up being a parody of McKay’s own style. Stuffed full of stars batting way below their acting weight, being shockingly unfunny every step of the way.
McKay furiously attacks you with his views with no tact or entertainment value attached. Its political nature is so simultaneously aggressive and vapid that it renders the message of the film moot altogether. Don’t Look Up feels like a horrible missed opportunity because it could have been a Dr. Strangelove, albeit a less revolutionary one, for a new age. It could have smartly commented on an urgent issue while providing frequent laughs, but it not only proved McKay is maybe the worst in Hollywood at transcribing his ideology onto a film, but that even his penchant for comedy has waned when he has been striving to become a more serious director.
7. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)
Anchorman 2 is its fight scene. It’s virtually the only reason it edges out Don’t Look Up and the only reason you would go back to visit the film at all. It’s a great scene but like everything in Anchorman 2, just owes its identity to the original. Way too many jokes are retreads of the original’s material, asking the audience if they remembered how much they loved the first one. But that of course defeats the purpose of Anchorman.
When the first came out, it boasted one of the strongest jokes to screen time ratios in years for a comedy and boasted a competent plot as well. Anchorman 2, meanwhile, stands on Ferrell’s legacy and his comedic tendencies without understanding what makes him funny in the first place. Its plot is exhausting and banal and the good jokes are severely overshadowed by groanworthy ones that have only damaged the series.
6. Vice (2018)
Vice isn’t a total failure. It’s evident McKay has a lot of scorn for the bush administration and occasionally it is able to be righteously angry and also somewhat sympathetic to Cheney himself. But all too often it is a bitter piece of work lacking the wisdom of something like Oliver Stone’s Nixon. it instead makes Cheney and his associates into caricatures instead of the Shakespearean monsters he wants to portray them as. And speaking of Shakespeare it’s hard to forget Vice actually using dialogue from Shakespeare’s work in the middle of dialogue scenes. In fact, it is all too likely scenes like that, and the edits of a fish being pulled in will be burned into your brain.
McKay takes a flamethrower to subtext and replaces it with insultingly bad images meant to represent the secondary meaning in any given scene. Down to the Fast and Furious post credits scene, Vice just feels hateful but not in a way that is complex or simply too good to turn away from.
5. The Other Guys (2010)
The Other Guys gets the job done. It’s a good comedy that shows just how funny Mark Wahlberg can be and also is an indication of just how well McKay can open a movie. The fall (quite literally) of Dwayne Johnson and Sam Jackson’s badass cops is a perfect way to setup the eventual triumph of Terry and Allen. Wahlberg and Ferrell don’t quite have the chemistry of Ferrell and Reilly, but they do carry the film with considerable ease for much of the runtime.
The Other Guys is an example of McKay’s comedy falling short in the home stretch. The sheen wears off after a while and the banter between the leads turns into the unbearable, far too long exchanges that dominate Netflix’s so called original “comedies” it’s also the earliest example of McKay botching his own social commentary, weakening the film’s tonal consistency with the occasional furious attack at American capitalism. It’s a less vicious and condescending watch than his later features but it’s also less funny engaging as his earlier ones. no doubt a good time but also not the pinnacle of his work.