Say what you will about “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” the long-awaited sequel to the cult comedy from 2004: It’s not afraid to get really, really weird. Sure, it’s not nearly as funny or quotable as the first film, its attempts at satire are notably flat and its comedy is cringe-inducing for long stretches. But whatever it is, it’s not nearly as lazy as most comedy sequels.
Preceded by a seemingly never-ending publicity blitz, featuring Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in just about every conceivable comedic or dramatic scenario in every medium imaginable, “Anchorman 2″ brings back most of its cast and creative team, and combines quite a few different styles of comedy, along with a healthy amount of fan service, And yes, the film takes an even deeper turn towards the surreal than the original did.
As indicated by the presence of a previously nonexistent 7-year-old son, “Anchorman 2″ is set quite a few years after the original, although somehow, it’s still the late ’70s. San Diego has been mostly abandoned as a location in favor of New York City, where Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are married and working as network news anchors. When there’s a sudden change, Burgundy must reunite the old news team, to work together at a CNN-like 24-hour cable news network, “GNN.”
The GNN part of the film represents a strange bit of satire: While it launches around the same time CNN did (1980), it’s clearly a proto-Fox News, with an emphasis on aggressive patriotism, fearmongering, celebrity gossip and car chases, and even with a shady billionaire Australian owner. In all, it’s not exactly an original commentary- the movie is making all the same points about the news business that “Broadcast News” did, back in 1987, as did “Network,” 11 years before that.
Of course, there’s plenty of downright surrealism too, with the plot veering off into fantasy and even sci-fi at various points.
There are some truly hilarious setpieces, including a bit involving a bus crash, and a few dialogue scenes constructed remarkably similar to the old “Bill Brasky” sketches on Saturday Night Live (also masterminded by director Adam McKay and Ferrell, this movie’s credited screenwriters.) And if you thought the cameo-filled newscaster rumble in the original movie was over-the-top, that was nothing.
However, there are a lot of places where “Anchorman 2″ steps very wrongly. There are a whole lot of hamfisted, awful jokes that are way beneath this group of filmmakers, including an O.J. joke that I think I first heard at least ten years ago. There are also a couple of long sequences that are just plain painful, especially a long sequence of blindness jokes. And don’t even get me started on the dinner scene in which Ferrell sits with a black family and speaks “jive.” It’s clearly going for something like that great 30 Rock scene when Alec Baldwin imitated Tracy Morgan’s entire family, but in this case it’s just cringe-inducing.
Steve Carell’s dumb-as-a-post, nonsense-spouting weatherman Brick Tamland was the clear weak link of the original, and that’s true again here; that he’s given a similar female love interest (Kristen Wiig) with whom to trade non-sequiters doesn’t bring any more laughs. David Koechner’s character, meanwhile, has one funny beat to play- the once-a-movie joke that implies he has more-than-friendly feelings for Ron Burgundy.
I did, however, love the actor playing Burgundy’s son, whose performance is all wonderful reaction shots. And Meagan Good is outstanding, given limited material as Ferrell’s boss and potential lover.
Once again, the second “Anchorman” isn’t quite as funny as the first, and I didn’t come out of it spouting quotes the way I did with the first one back in ’04. But I give the filmmakers credit for not just gently tweaking the script of the first one and repeat itself, like, say, “The Hangover” did. Now, if only they hadn’t put Ron Burgundy on TV 15 times a day in the last four months…