The blow-dried hair, polyester suits, ’70s-style political incorrectness and facial hair are back in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” The buffoonery goes epic in this sillier-than-silly sequel, a broad, down and dirty comedy overfilled with funny people trying to one-up one another on the set in the classic “best line wins” school of comic improvisation.
Many jokes land, and some die a quiet death that sounds like the crickets that could have made a home in Will Ferrell’s mustache.
But darned if “The Legend Continues” isn’t also a sometimes on-the-money commentary on 24-hour news and what it has done to the civic institution of journalism. “Anchorman 2” suggests the notion that if there’s a live car chase, a celebrity behaving badly or a cute critter story “trending,” it’s what TV should cover, originated with Ron Burgundy:
“Why do we have to tell people what they need to know? Why can’t we just tell them what they want to hear?”
That may be the sanest thing Burgundy (Ferrell) says, after he’s gotten his “team” (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner) back together and landed them all gigs at a new Australian-owned cable news start-up in the dark days of 1980 New York.
Ron needs sports bigot Champ Kind (Koechner), investigative ladies man Brian Fantana (Rudd) and weather nerd Brick Tamland (Carell) so that he can fulfill his destiny, to “have salon quality hair and read the news.”
He’s lost his wife (Christina Applegate), and an anchor played by Harrison Ford has run him out of the business. But cable offers them all another shot. If only they can get the better of anchor bully Jack Lime (James Marsden). If only their boss doesn’t insist on “synergy” that keeps his troubled airline out of the news. If only Brick’s high-pitched voice doesn’t betray half a dozen nervous disorders with a touch of Asperger’s syndrome.
Ron’s got to get a handle on having a black boss (Meagan Good, bringing it) and his wife having a shrink for a beau (Greg Kinnear). Brian has to get over the money and women he gave up as a pet fashion photographer to return to news. Champ has to adjust to the TV sportscasts showing nothing but home runs – “WHAMMY! WHAMMY! WHAMMY!”
And Brick’s got to find someplace other than the office vending machine to take the daft office receptionist (Kristen Wiig) he wants to date.
You can tell the old pros from the novices in this outing, with Carell blurting out random noises and words and scoring snickers every time he opens his mouth. His scenes with Wiig are rough-hewn exercises in improv – each waiting on tenterhooks to react, cleverly, to whatever unexpected burp comes out of the other. Applegate, a veteran of “Anchorman,” holds her own. Folks like Kinnear, Ford and Marsden settle for just doing their lines, trying to keep a straight face (watch Marsden almost lose it).
And Ferrell is the same bundle of comic energy he’s shown himself to be in the past few months he’s been selling this film, in car commercials, doing local newscasts and ESPN “reports.” The whole cast, but Ferrell especially, hurl so much at the wall that many of the best bits from the movie’s many TV commercials are nowhere to be found in the finished film.
Not all of them work, and the story tilts so heavily toward Ferrell that if you aren’t a fan you have no business paying to see two hours of his tomfoolery. The finale, leaving no cameo unturned, is a dud.
But “Anchorman 2” proves that you don’t have to be a fine wine to age well. Even a cheap Burgundy can get the job done.
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