Comedy sequels generally follow the law of diminishing returns. If it has a 2?or, classier yet, a II?in the title, the smart money says that it won’t be as funny as the original. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues doesn’t defy that axiom, but it’s still plenty hilarious in a reheated sort of way. Will Ferrell may be our greatest conjurer of clueless cinematic blowhards — Talladega Nights’ Ricky Bobby, Blades of Glory’s Chazz Michael Michaels, and Austin Powers’ unkillable fez-wearing hitman Mustafa all come to mind. But I’d argue that his blow-dried teleprompter-reading newsboob, Ron Burgundy, is the most inspired creation to pop out of his beautifully deranged brain. With his polyester three-piece suits, Burt Reynolds porn ‘stache, and inflated sense of self, he’s pure Me Decade id. Or, as he likes to put it, ”I’m kind of a big deal.”
The first Anchorman, released in 2004, was a perfectly-rigged slapstick machine loaded with indelible lines (”Milk was a bad choice!”). It was also the rare broad big-screen comedy that didn’t feel stretched too thin like so many other SNL alumni flicks before it. It was a giddy send-up of the Carter era, turning a pompous, dim-bulb newsreader modeled after The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Ted Baxter into a harmless source of pants-wetting anarchy.
In the sequel, The Legend Continues, the legend, well, pretty much continues. It’s the early ’80s and Ron and his on- and off-screen partner Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are riding high. That is, until he gets sacked from his job by his imperious, old-school boss (Harrison Ford, the first of many great A-list cameos). Meanwhile, Veronica is promoted, sending Ron into a lather of jealousy that busts up their relationship. Before you know it, he’s in exile, drunkenly emceeing a dolphin act at SeaWorld with his trusty mutt Baxter in tow.
Ron doesn’t have to wait long for a second chance, thanks to a fledgling 24-hour news channel called GNN that needs talking heads to fill up its graveyard time slot. Ron doesn’t quite share the round-the-clock network’s bold vision of the future, but ”by the hymen of Olivia Newton-John”, he’s such a narcissist he needs to be on the air. So he takes the gig, hitting the road in his shag-carpeted RV to reunite his old news team: Paul Rudd’s mutton-chopped muckraker Brian Fantana, David Koechner’s casually racist sports reporter Champ Kind, and, of course, Steve Carell’s imbecile meteorologist Brick Tamland.
In these early scenes, Anchorman 2 has cheeky promise. The decade-specific song cues and sight gags come fast and furious…and most of them land. But as things chug along and Ron and his posse start feuding with James Marsden’s more polished news team (”I bet his poop smells like sandalwood”), the film starts to flag and feel a little too familiar, going through the same paces and beats established by the first film?right down to a baroque battle royale in Central Park with a parade of rival TV news teams that takes the same rumble scene from the original and cranks it up to eleven. Meagan Good is on hand as Ron’s new boss at GNN, an ambitious African-American female producer that the hopelessly retro-chauvinist Ron can’t wrap his head around. Meanwhile, Brick is given an equally socially awkward love interest (Kristen Wiig) that tends to stop the film in its tracks.
The plot of the film involves Ron selling his journalistic soul (wait, did he ever have one?) by hyping sensationalistic stories like O.J.-style freeway chases and Fox News-esque appeals to flag-waving patriotism that will snag ratings and make him a big deal again. But ”by the bedpan of Gene Rayburn” he comes to his senses before it’s too late. Of course, the plot is pretty much beside the point in a film like this one. What we want are jokes that are as comforting and familiar as the laugh track on a sitcom rerun. Anchorman 2 dutifully (sometimes hilariously) serves up those jokes even though we already know the punch lines. B