For years, Will Ferrell has resisted the urge to make a sequel to any of his films, but if there’s one character from his repertoire deserving of a second helping, it’s Ron Burgundy. Though a sequel had been rumored for years after the original attained cult status on DVD, it’s easy to see now why Paramount was so gunshy. The first “Anchorman” was lightning in a bottle; a comedy so goofy and over the top that it took people completely by surprise. And while the sequel aims to match (and exceeds) that level of silliness, it just doesn’t compare. “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” is at times funnier than its predecessor, but it’s also wildly inconsistent, bouncing aimlessly between gut-busting hilarity and entire sequences that miss their mark.
“The Legend Continues” picks up several years after the first film, with Ron (Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) now living with their son in New York City and co-anchoring on a national news station. But when Veronica is suddenly promoted and Ron is fired, the pair splits up and Ron heads back to San Diego. Six months later, he’s tracked down by producer Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) with an opportunity to return to NYC as part of the first-ever 24-hour news channel, GNN. After reassembling his former news team – Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Champ Kind (David Koechner) – in time for the official launch, Ron makes fast enemies with star anchorman Jack Lime (James Marsden), who’s been given the primetime slot. But despite getting saddled with the graveyard shift, Ron makes a bet with Jack that he’ll still get bigger ratings, leading him to take a vastly different approach to the news that changes the course of broadcast journalism forever.
“Anchorman 2” starts so strongly that, for a moment, it appears that Ferrell and director Adam McKay have done the impossible by outdoing the original. But while the laughs come fast and furious early on, they’re not quite as prevalent in the latter half. Part of the reason is the movie’s nearly two-hour runtime, which is plagued by several long stretches where nothing very funny happens, diluting the laughs-per-minute ratio in the process. Many of the cast and crew from the first “Anchorman” have admitted that they were surprised by which jokes and one-liners caught on with audiences, and that’s had an adverse effect here, because it seems like McKay was so worried about cutting potential comedic gold that he just left it all in. Unfortunately, some of the jokes are such massive failures – including a bizarre third act twist involving Ron – that you’d wish he was a little more selective about what made the final cut.
Ferrell and McKay’s biggest mistake is trying too hard to recapture the absurdist tone of its predecessor, because some of the material in “Anchorman 2” comes across as being ridiculous purely for the sake of it. The climactic news team battle royale is particularly guilty of this. Although the sequence is chockfull of great cameos, it feels more like a tacked-on piece of fan service than anything resembling the clever fight scene in the first movie. Even more troubling is how poorly the supporting cast is utilized this time around. While Ferrell is excellent once again as the mustachioed anchorman, Paul Rudd and David Koechner are pushed to the sidelines for much of the film. Steve Carell’s simple-minded weatherman, meanwhile, is given a romantic subplot with Kristen Wiig’s similarly awkward secretary that isn’t as funny as intended. Brick is better in small doses, especially when he’s interacting with the other guys, but “Anchorman 2” lacks the strong group dynamic that made the original so successful.
There’s not enough of the four friends hanging out together, and as a result, it risks feeling like the Ron Burgundy Show at times, even if he’s undoubtedly the most amusing of the bunch. Instead of wasting precious screen time on idiotic characters like Veronica’s new boyfriend and Ron’s effeminate son, who’s played by one of the worst child actors since Jake Lloyd, Ferrell and McKay should have just stuck with what worked the first time. With that said, “Anchorman 2” isn’t quite as bad as this admittedly harsh review might suggest. (My expectations may have been set a tad high.) In fact, while it’s not as quotable as the original, the movie has more than enough laughs that it’s still an enjoyable, albeit uneven and incredibly gonzo, comedy. Diehard fans won’t be disappointed, though they probably shouldn’t hold out hope for another sequel.