Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence.
Running time: 119 minutes.
Two stars out of four.
“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” is so scattershot in its stream-of-consciousness sense of mayhem, it makes the original “Anchorman” look like a John le Carre adaptation by comparison.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You want your Will Ferrell movies a little messy, a little silly, especially when it comes to the larger-than-life buffoonery of clueless newsman Ron Burgundy. And ordinarily, I would tend to agree. Ron Burgundy is the purest incarnation of Ferrell’s signature strain of comic character: crass, pompous, sexist, shallow and painfully lacking in self-awareness. But he’s also unpredictable, and his healthy ego primes him for any adventure, which makes him awesome.
He’s a blast to watch, as was a great deal of “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” Ferrell’s first film foray with longtime friend and collaborator Adam McKay, who was making his directing debut way back in 2004. Part of why I loved that original movie was personal: As the wife of a longtime TV news producer, I recognized that Ron and the rest of his loyal news crew weren’t too far off from some of the self-serious figures I’d met in real life.
Similarly, the elements in “Anchorman 2” that most closely reflect reality are the ones that are the most effective. At its core, this is a satire of the inanity of the 24-hour cable news cycle. Leave it to Burgundy to figure out that viewers will tune in for the news they want to see, not necessarily the news they need to see. So bring on the car chases and cute animal stories and the unabashed patriotism. Crowd the screen with more crawls and graphics and talking heads screaming over each other from multiple boxes. And if the Fox News Channel similarities weren’t obvious enough, this fictional network has a wealthy, ballsy Australian at the helm.
But then there is the rest of the movie — two whole hours of it, this being a co-production with Judd Apatow, and all — which would seem sketchy even by the standards of sketch comedy. (McKay and Ferrell share screenwriting credit but there was clearly a lot of improv at work here.) There are some solid, consistent laughs throughout, many of which come from the obsessively detailed costume and production design. And the fact that Ferrell & Co. are so willing to just go for it and make complete asses of themselves for the sake of a gag always holds great promise. But too often, bits get beaten into the ground repeatedly or they drag on way too long when they didn’t exactly crackle with life in the first place.
Picking up several years after the original left off — in 1980, to be exact — “Anchorman 2” finds Ron and former rival Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) living and working together as a husband-wife weekend news team in New York. (They are also the parents of an eerily sweet little boy named Walter.) But when the station’s longtime anchor (Harrison Ford, hair-sprayed and gravelly) announces he’s retiring, he chooses Veronica as his successor, sending Ron into a tailspin.
Six months later, a producer (Dylan Baker) from an upstart 24-hour cable network known as GNN approaches Ron with an offer for him and his classy team of cohorts from San Diego. “Anchorman 2” spends an inordinately long time following Ron around as he rounds up mustachioed, gold-chained investigative journalist Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd); sports anchor Champ Kind (David Koechner), who knows nothing about sports beyond his signature home-run call of “Whammy!”; and stunted weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), who realizes he must actually leave the studio sometimes to see what the weather is like.
From there, the hazily structured plot finds Ron and his pals enjoying monster ratings and becoming instant superstars with their pandering style of coverage. This draws the ire of pretty-boy rival anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden, perfect for the part) as well as unexpected overtures from Ron’s boss, news director Linda Jackson. We should mention that Linda is black, and played by the ferociously sexy Meagan Good, which would seem revolutionary for the time. Trouble is, Ron can’t get past the color of her skin — like, literally, all he can do in her presence when he first meets her is babble the word “black, black, black.” This is supposed to serve as commentary about how uncomfortable so many people still feel about discussing cultural differences, but this particular gag and a subsequent dinner with Linda’s family are just straining for shock value.
Just when “Anchorman 2” seems to be finding its groove — and we haven’t even mentioned its soundtrack of cheesy easy-listening pop tunes — the story veers off into an entirely different direction that causes whatever momentum it might have had to grind to a halt. It’s as if Ferrell and McKay made two different movies and slammed them together — and they reportedly did shoot enough footage for two whole movies, which could explain its disjointed outcome.
Still, you want more jazz flute? Ron not only plays his super-cool instrument, he does it on ice skates. You want more subtitled talk from Ron’s scuffy, loyal terrier, Baxter? This time, he talks while protecting Ron from a shark attack. (Don’t ask.) And you want another massive brawl between a multitude of news teams? This one’s even bigger, with even bigger stars making cameos. (The possibilities of what could have been with these people is just depressing.)
The whole thing goes down like a second giant tumbler of scotchy scotch scotch: familiar, comforting and, ultimately, numbing.