Fans have been clamoring for a sequel to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy for so long, Will Ferrell (and financier Paramount Pictures) finally decided to give the people what they wanted. The moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for. Released in the summer of 2004, the first Anchorman was a modest box office hit, but its popularity exploded on home video and cable, and like many of the comedies directed by Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys), the film got funnier the more times you watched it.
So it’s possible that in two or three years, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues will come off as a laugh riot when you catch it while surfing late-night TV. Today, though, the movie comes off as a lumpen collection of uninspired ad-libs (“By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!”), loads of celebrity cameos that are supposed to be inherently funny because the actors are famous, and a meandering storyline that has a great hook — the dumbing-down of TV news — but is relegated to the sidelines for subplots about sharks and interoffice romances and bouts of blindness.
Set in 1980, the movie is at its best when it shows how Ron (Ferrell) and his crew (weatherman Steve Carell, investigative reporter Paul Rudd and sportscaster David Koechner) affect the launch of the nation’s first 24-hour news channel, GNN. Initially relegated to the 2 a.m. graveyard shift, Burgundy is quickly promoted to prime time when his reports on cute animal videos and live car chases boost the station’s ratings past the networks.
The subtext of the first Anchorman, which was set in the 1970s, was sexism: Burgundy was incensed when a woman (Christina Applegate) was assigned to co-anchor the local news with him. Anchorman 2 tries to mine the same laughs from racism after Ron has an affair with his African-American boss Linda (Meagan Good). But the jokes this time are blunt and tired, stereotypical gags that don’t come close, say, to what Mel Brooks pulled off in Blazing Saddles. A scene in which Ron tries to ingratiate himself with Linda’s family at dinner by spouting outrageously offensive slang should have been edgy and explosive; instead, the humor is dull and dated.
Carell, whose character is even dumber and more bizarre than in the first movie, lands some funny bits with his constant outbursts of insane nonsense (he also gets a lot more screen time in the sequel, concurrent with Carell’s greater fame). But his romance with a hapless secretary (Kristen Wiig) who is as weird as he is lands with a thud. Here is a movie that manages to make the supremely talented Wiig unfunny. Rudd and Koechner aren’t given much to do other than pop in for one-liners, and a subplot involving Ron’s relationship with his 6-year-old son teeters on the verge of sentimental — something that has no place in an Anchorman movie.
The Legend Continues has some good bits — there’s a hilarious early sequence in which the four friends are sitting around chatting in Ron’s Winnebago and suddenly realize no one is driving the vehicle — but most of the movie feels like a lazy vanity project, a picture that coasts on the reputation of the original. And at nearly two hours, the film is wildly overlong (producer Judd Apatow is like the Peter Jackson of comedies; he never knows when to quit). The lack of effort, right down to the unimaginative title, is dispiriting.
Cast: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Dylan Baker, James Marsden, Meagan Good, Kristen Wiig, Greg Kinnear.
Director: Adam McKay.
Screenwriters: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay.
Producers: Judd Apatow, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay.
A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 119 minutes. Vulgar language, crude humor, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.