LOS ANGELES – Every time I see Ron Burgundy, a.k.a. Will Ferrell, hawking Dodge Durangos on TV – which seems like a million times a day – what strikes me is how brilliant the “Anchorman” conceit is in small bits. The carefully manicured hair, the flashy suits, all just window dressing for that marvelously bloated ego, the absurd made irresistible in 60-second increments.
That, I’d suggest, should be the recommended dosage.
At nearly 2 hours, the nonsense of Ron and the news game, which Ferrell and co-writer and director Adam McKay skewered so effectively in 2004, is harder to sustain the second time around. “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” does continue the legend of the original “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”
But the reality that Ron Burgundy did indeed become a legend is part of the film’s difficulty. Waiting nearly a decade before the sequel came allowed time for “Anchorman” to reach cult status – “stay classy” joined the lexicon of the knowingly sarcastic. So revered is the original, the film’s legions of fans have likely watched it about as many times as I’ve seen those Dodge ads. Between the history and the hype, expectations are high for a Burgundy redux to deliver.
That presents its own set of challenges. A comedy sequel always carries the risk that the joke was stretched to the limits in the first. We did not, for example, need another slice of “American Pie,” anymore than we needed a “Hangover 2” or “3,” a clear case of overindulging.
While I’m glad “Anchorman” is back – we need a little levity in this year of heavy films – I do wish it were better. With so many sight gags and nearly every living comic in the world making an appearance at some point, the entire operation, like Ron’s ego, feels a bit bloated.
Still, “Anchorman 2” has its distinct pleasures, chief among them its characters. And chief among its characters is Steve Carell. Back as mentally challenged weathercaster Brick Tamland, his scenes are hysterically saturated with the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind. Double the fun when Kristen Wiig’s socially inept Chani enters the picture. Together, they create some of the strangest romantic chemistry the big screen has seen in a while – maybe ever.
As the legend picks up, Ron and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are married with a young son named Walter (Cronkite?). The former competitors have joined forces, co-anchoring a weekend network newscast in New York. They are happy enough, but pining for prime time.
A series of unfortunate events align to split up the couple – on air and off. It begins when she gets that prime-time spot and he does not – the good news/bad news delivered in a very funny cameo by Harrison Ford. Veronica’s success is more than Ron can stomach, so it’s back to San Diego for the fallen star.
Besides, there had to be some excuse to send Ron on a downward spiral – wedded bliss and career satisfaction don’t suit him. It also allows the filmmakers to reunite the anchorman with his former news team: correspondent Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner) and Brick.
Like an incredibly slow windup, “Anchorman 2” spends a lot of time getting us caught up on their lives; basically, some are better off than others. These segments struggle for traction and Ron’s job as an emcee at SeaWorld has drawn sharp criticism from real-world animal rights activists who see absolutely nothing funny in the captivity of killer whales (see the documentary “Blackfish” for a very good recap of the issues).
Rescuing Ron from San Diego, and us from a dearth of the solid silly nonsense we expect from “Anchorman,” is the very dry Dylan Baker. As Freddie Shapp, a TV producer trying to sell Ron on the idea of a 24-hour cable news operation, you can tell if the TV gig doesn’t pan out he’s got a future in used cars.
With the plasticized all-news-all-the-time culture in the film’s sights, the fun begins in earnest. Burgundy has a new nemesis in Jack Lime (James Marsden). Though it hardly seems possible, Lime has better hair than Ron. And he may not understand what is actually going on in the world, but he’s a smooth news reader and he knows exactly when to flash that megawatt smile. Marsden is a crack-up in the role.
The competition to keep up ratings and newsroom infighting provides a good setup for many of the best jokes. The birth of the slow-speed car chase during Ron’s watch is a hoot. The funniest gag involves Brick, but to say more would be to spoil the fun.
There are a few bizarre detours that seem contrived to allow the filmmakers to keep a gag they loved but couldn’t quite figure out how to make it fit. One involves blindness and a lighthouse and is actually hilarious. But at times like this, it feels as if the concept has outrun the comedy, and “Anchorman 2” stops making sense.
Betsy Sharkey: firstname.lastname@example.org
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES
MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence
Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Playing: In general release
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