After nine years and a seemingly omnipresent advertising campaign, the story of "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" jumps back into action pretty much where the first film left off: with beloved San Diego anchorman Ron Burgundy getting mauled by a shark in the middle of the ocean. Okay, more or less where the first film left off.
The aquatic attack turns out to be a flash-forward, eventually to be worked into the film’s story somehow. Despite its seemingly randomness, the moment tells you right off the bat everything you should expect from the new adventures of Ron Burgundy: lunacy. And that joyous embrace of all-in looniness is what makes "Anchorman 2" a surprising step up from its predecessor.
Now, to be fair, I’m not much of a fan of the first "Anchorman." Every time the film comes up in conversation, I feel like Jay Baruchel in "This Is The End," collecting bewildered looks of disappointment from Emma Watson and Craig Robinson for not loving "Forrest Gump."
I watched it recently in the hopes of joining the club, earning my honorary maroon polyester jacket and mustache in process, but I felt tragically the same: It’s a marginally diverting mix of loosely assembled riffs and sketches designed for Will Ferrell’s tediously overconfident and loud man-child routine that supplies more random catchphrases than laughs.
Don’t let that, however, turn my recommendation into some snooty backhanded critic compliment. The sequel is very funny, flinging everything at the wall with giggly, rambunctious glee and even a dose of sharp satire about the world of 24-hour news. Some of it doesn’t stick. A lot more does.
Ron (Ferrell, whose delivery seems entertainingly inspired after slightly toning down the character's smug arrogance) and rival-turned-wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are now a popular anchor tandem living in ’80s New York City.
Their life of leisure comes to a halt when their boss (Harrison Ford) promotes Veronica and kicks Ron to the curb, calling him the worst news anchor he’s ever seen. Never being one to take a shot to the ego well, Ron bails on Veronica and his chipper little son, and turns into a sad drunk hosting animal shows at SeaWorld. He’s a disgrace, but all in all, not the worst thing to happen to SeaWorld this year.
He’s eventually pulled out of his self-pitying stupor by a media rep (Dylan Baker) hoping to sell Ron on a groundbreaking idea: GNN, the first 24-hour news network.
He laughs it off at first, but he’s soon trekking across the country to pull together his old team: sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner), now running a fast food joint that tries to pass off bat ("chicken of the cave") as fried chicken; field reporter-turned-hotshot cat photographer Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd); and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), still a mentally-addled non sequitur artist.
The crew heads to GNN, where they’re saddled with the early morning graveyard shift. Desperate for ideas and viewers, they resort to covering fluff and fear bait. Of course, audiences are hooked by their overdramatic stunt news coverage – a mix of Fox News’ loud audience pandering, ESPN’s mindless catchphrase blaring and CNN’s comically desperate fumbling to fill airtime – turning Ron into a star.
Meanwhile, after struggling with the concept of women in the workforce last time, the anarchic boys club now faces race in the workplace in the form of their black boss Linda Jackson (Meagan Good).
Like most people, she’s put off by the professional man-children and their anti-news on-air shenanigans (most memorably, they sample crack live). As the ratings come in, however, she starts to warm up to the fledgling network’s biggest star.
The story itself is fairly by-the-numbers, a conventional biopic-friendly tale about a man’s climb to fame blinding him to his ego, his corrupted ethics, and his neglected friends and family. That is, until he’s goes quite literally blind, living in an isolated lighthouse and caring for a baby shark named Doby. That’s what makes "Anchorman 2" so fun; it keeps finding ways to push anything and everything – including its clichés – into ridiculous silly farce.
Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay fill the sequel’s expanded screen time (120 minutes, as opposed to the original’s brisk 94) with as much untethered lunacy as possible. They somehow turn up the bizarre wackiness from the first film – and that featured an a cappella rendition of "Afternoon Delight," an animation sequence and Jack Black punting a dog.
It feels like McKay, Ferrell and company are just trying things out to see what they can get away with. In one early scene, Ron, Brian and Champ are having a laugh when, mid-guffaw, the film jump cuts to a later part of the conversation in the same location. I can’t tell if the editing joke is wackily inspired or merely just lazy, but it kills.
That manic "why not?" comedic spirit results in scenes where McKay has the characters chatting in an RV before randomly assembling an array of dangers (scorpions, bowling balls, hot oil) and smashing them all together in a slow motion car wreck.
Then there's the cameo-filled news station rumble redux, whose appearance seems inevitable but satisfying reworked and escalated to a whole new level of weird comedy (one returning character’s late cameo, on the other hand, is less worthwhile).
Of course, the film’s "throw your hands in the air and go nuts" comedy sensibilities don’t bode well for a solidly told story. Much like its predecessor, it’s still wildly disjointed. A subplot involving a rival newsman named Jack Lime (James Marsden) could be killed off without missing much, and Good – and oddly enough Rudd – are given disappointing little to do.
On the other hand, Carell and new addition Kristen Wiig, playing a female Brick, are given much more screen time. A little Brick goes a long way, so having more of the character, in either male or female form, hits the audience like, well, a brick. And not one of the comedic gold variety.
Still, the story nicely serves its role. It's pretty much a flimsy but competent coat rack for Ferrell and McKay to hang their hilariously off-the-wall material. I laughed. A lot. And as criteria for a comedy, that’s kind of a big deal.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.