'American Hustle,' 'Anchorman 2' worth seeing

Interestingly, "American Hustle" -- a film about a con man assisting an FBI operation -- starts with a con. The first thing that appears on screen are the words, "Some of this actually happened." That's confusing. That phrasing is different from the typical "Inspired by a true story" line, but something about it raised my hackles a bit.

Even more interestingly, my biggest problem with "American Hustle" was it became a slave to its own lie. The film certainly had the requisite nuggets of truth, such as the 1970s setting and the ultimate resolution to the story. Beyond that, however, much of the story is fictionalized. There was this odd push and pull between the incredibly well-acted, dynamic characters and the historically accurate road they had to travel. Much like my opinion on 2012's "Lawless," I think "American Hustle" could have benefited from taking its wonderful characters and making them do something less true but more extraordinary.

Granted, every film really deserves two reviews -- what it could have been and what it actually is. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner lead one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory. Director David O. Russell, the man behind last year's absolutely stunning "Silver Linings Playbook," has a history of developing psychologically complex characters. Russell's eye for character depth couples with a strong cast that can sell it is a wonderful combination and is easily the film's greatest accomplishment.

I know there is a great film inside of "American Hustle." All of the pieces are present and in the right order. Much like a person's taste in food, there simply are certain things we like better than others. "American Hustle" is definitely fine dinning, but it's not a restaurant I would choose on my own.

* 5 of 6 stars.

* * *

"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" is something of an anomaly in cinema. Nearly everyone I've ever spoke with about "Anchorman" has had the same opinion -- it's a film more fun to quote and talk about than it is to actually watch. That's an odd place to be culturally. A film such as "Dumb and Dumber" is very much a pop culture icon. I gets quoted regularly; however, when it comes on TV, stopping to watch is a no-brainer.

The long-awaited sequel "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" finally has arrived -- nearly a decade after the first film. Comedy sequels often lose the spark that made the original a hit. "Anchorman 2" definitely is cut from the same cloth as its forebearer, if not exactly in the same pattern. The philosophical question then becomes: Has the humor changed, or have we changed as viewers? I think the answer is some of both. In the summer of 2004, I was getting ready to start my senior year of high school. I can say with extreme confidence I'm not the same person I was. I laughed good and hard at "Anchorman 2," but I can't help thinking my 2004 self would have enjoyed it more.

* 5 of 6 stars.

James Gerstner works at Fort Hays State University Foundation.