Film Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

About the only gag that doesn't get recycled in this saggy, would-be-satirical sequel is the one about Ron Burgundy's love of scotch.

Jokes usually don’t get better the second time around, even when they involve Ron Burgundy and his too-hot-for-San Diego (pronounced “San Dee-ah-go”) news team. Like too many others before them, director Adam McKay and his star/co-writer Will Ferrell decided they could catch lightning in a bottle again nearly a decade after Anchorman became the decade’s catchphrase-riddled sleeper comedy. But as with The Hangover 2 and uncounted failed comedy sequels, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is so busy resting on its laurels it never gives the audience a solid reason for having shown up. The original was anarchic parody on a near-operatic scale, with the feel of several comedy greats throwing it all out there as though they would never get another shot. But the second film is clearly a franchise, it reeks of work.

With his helmet hair and chest-puffing, hedonistic sexism, Burgundy (Ferrell) is a hot-tub-dwelling creature of the 1970s West Coast. It doesn’t quite make sense for the film to open in 1980 with him and wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) co-anchoring the nightly news from Manhattan. But missed opportunities aside (there’s a whole film that could have been made of Burgundy trying to wrap his polyestered mind around New York), things don’t start off terribly, with Burgundy getting the boot and storming out on Veronica when she doesn’t quit alongside him. This leads to a decently funny scenario when Burgundy is offered a job at a new, CNN-like 24-hour news channel and he gets the rowdy old gang (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner) back together to work with him. A quick gag of a cross-country road trip in a motorhome shows some flickers of the old magic.

Once back in New York, though, Anchorman 2 quickly loses its way. Burgundy’s pairing of mountainous, utterly unfounded confidence and crying-in-his-scotch self-pity leaves plenty of opportunities for McKay and Ferrell’s mocking, faux-mythologizing. But they try to give Burgundy just too much to fight for. First, there’s his rival at the network, a gleaming-toothed Ken doll of an anchor played by James Marsden. Second, a new man in Veronica’s life played by Greg Kinnear. Ron and the boys have to get over their caveman ways once they find out their new boss is a black woman (Meagan Good, acting for all the world like she’s in a bad melodrama). There’s also the inevitable humbling and long struggle back to success, not to mention a toothless satiric subplot about the tabloidization of news that’s neither biting nor funny. All of this delivers maybe half the laughs it’s supposed to—even less so in the case of Burgundy’s fling with his boss, which is played weirdly straight. Giving Carrell’s half-psychopathic, half-touchingly daft weatherman a romantic interest in the form of Kristen Wiig, though, feels close to perfect.

For guys who once seemed happy throwing pop-Dadaist pipe bombs at the audience, McKay and Ferrell appear more interested here in spoon-feeding. Here’s a repeat of the gag about suit-shopping, there the bit with the dog who can talk to other animals, and here a celebrity cameo-choked climax that plays off the original’s news-team battle royale. Too long by half and featuring an overabundance of actors who clearly don’t know their way around improv comedy, it’s less Anchorman than it is McKay and Ferrell’s similarly weak The Other Guys. Anchorman 2 is a strangely self-important film that seems to think its appeal actually lies in having a well-developed story with jokes. 

Anchorman 2 would be better served up as a lengthy extra on a super-deluxe DVD re-release of the original than as a film in its own right.