The first “Anchorman” is one of those weird, subversive films—a movie so odd, people didn’t quite know what to make of it. Even I, a huge fan of the movie, found myself puzzled during its first run. I liked it, but it wasn’t until I picked it up on DVD and watched it a dozen more times that the true genius of the film became apparent. Like many, I spent a good couple of years quoting the film at every and any opportunity.
When I worked with Danny Trejo on a film, I practically begged him to re-enact the bar scene from the end of “Anchorman” while having dinner at a Waffle House. I can quote the film from front to back—and will do so with very little persuasion. What am I saying? I like “Anchorman.” And, so, the announcement of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” seemed like something to celebrate.
The finished film, however, is a strange concoction that has a hard time living up to the original. No matter how good it is, it almost immediately feels derivative. “Anchorman 2” is like a master class on going back to the well. We join Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Appelgate) a few years after taking the news world by storm. Now, they co-anchor the nightly news in New York City. Everything seems to be going great until Veronica gets promoted and Ron is fired, which sends their relationship into a fiery tailspin. Ron goes back to San Diego and Veronica takes up with a new lover. Things seem bleak for everyone’s favorite anchorman until an innovative opportunity presents itself: a brand new thing called the 24-hour news channel.
Ron and his action news team reassemble to help launch the facelift of the news media. There are new challenges to deal with, like the young hotshot news anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) and a smoking hot African American female boss who makes the news team uncomfortable in a number of ways. The story itself is just another set up for a lot of crazy happenings, existing only to connect one ridiculous bit to another.
The first “Anchorman” remains a love letter to the 1970s. “Anchorman 2” tries to be the same for the 1980s but never quite hits the same marks. Truthfully, the same could be said about the entire film.
“Anchorman 2” feels like a victory lap—a slow jog (might be “yog,” could be a soft “J”) around the track, reminding people what was so great about the first film. There’s a lot of recycled jokes. Instead of Bryan Fantana’s closet of fragrances, we get condoms. “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” features a lot of celebrity cameos for a battle between news teams. The second ups the ante and doubles down cameos with an even more over-the-top battle sequence. In the first, Baxter saves Ron from a bear. In this one, it’s a shark. One of the things I love about the original “Anchorman” is how originally weird it felt. The sequel riffs so hard on the first that it no longer feels fresh and eccentric.
While far from perfect, there are still some really funny scenes. The best bits involve Ron and company deciding the only way to get ratings is to dumb down the news. Creating a kind of alternative history where Burgundy and his news team are responsible for turning the fourth estate into a joke. But most of the material feels stale and never achieves the idiotic glee of the original. Ferrell is still glorious in the role, and his supporting cast is as game as ever. Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner are quite likable in their roles, even though the shtick feels tired.
Capturing lightning in a bottle is never easy. The first “Anchorman” remains a fantastic example of when a strange idea takes hold and becomes something truly legendary. “Anchorman 2” feels like they tried a reverse engineering on the process only to end up with something aesthetically similar but never quite as funny. The jokes are good, but they’re not great. The characters are amusing, but there are only a handful of laugh-out-loud moments. “Anchorman 2” is a ripple or an aftershock, but it lacks an explosive thunder or big splash to make it stand on its own. It’s a regurgitation and something of a disappointment.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Starring Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner
Directed by Adam McKay