Regardless of its standing as filmmaking or comedy (it was pretty dreadful on both counts), the original Anchorman was something of a cultural touchstone when it was released in the summer of 2004. At that time — and even to this day — the film is more surreal and strange than honestly funny, and its general conceit (Will Ferrell, playing some buffoonish character, adlibbing his way through the movie) has been so ground down by subsequent Ferrell vehicles that it has probably made Anchorman retroactively worse in the bargain. This, along with a laundry list of bad omens — like the nonstop, aggressive promotions and the seeming desperation to make a sequel to a 9-year-old movie — made the prospects of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues gloomy.
And for the most part, the movie is lousy, being little more than a rehash of the first film. Titular anchorman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) is a brash, idiotic dolt who — following the events of the first film — has lost his anchor job and his wife Veronica (Christina Applegate), but is suddenly offered a job on a brand new 24-hour cable news network. (The film takes place in some indefinable, vaguely surreal and mostly nonsensical late ’70s/early ’80s time period.) This gives the film its redemptive plotline, plus an excuse for Ron to reunite with his old news team of Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Champ Kind (David Koechner) and throw out some improved one-liners and other various randomness. This isn’t as strange as it was in 2004, so the comedy feels more labored — right down to the out-and-out repurposing of the original’s most memorable bits. The film even climaxes with a big battle royal between Ron and company and a bevy of rival newscasters; the idea is to up the ante on the original’s giant newscaster brawl — and it almost does — but it goes nowhere and plays more like lip service than comedy.
That the movie never delves into the scatological is perhaps its saving grace as far as humor goes, but that just makes the movie less offensive. This (admittedly idiotic) harmlessness is partly what keeps the movie from outright disaster— along with a boost from Anchorman 2’s surprisingly satirical bent. The idea beneath the film’s goofy facade is that the brain-dead Burgundy has invented the modern, sensationalistic 24-hour news cycle, taking viewers from superficial reporting, to blind, patriotic flag-waving dispatches in the vein of Fox News. Now, as satire, it’s pretty heavy-handed, but there are moments that are surprisingly pointed. A brief gag — where a man with a knife in his head is watching the news and mindlessly cheering at the mere mention of “America” — is perhaps the funniest thing in Ferrell’s purely comedic offerings. This doesn’t keep the rest of the movie from being mostly unfunny and only occasionally amusing, but it does make things interesting now and then. When you consider how terrible Anchorman 2 had every right to be, this is a victory — a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence.
Playing at United Artists Beaucatcher