A Lesser Big Deal: "Anchorman 2" scattershot but saturated with some funny stuff

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) 
119 min., rated PG-13.

2004's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" was a gleefully broad, stupidly funny spitball of inspired, quotable goofiness scattered around jokes that sometimes went thud (you can't win 'em all), but Will Ferrell and a comically talented cast brought home the scattershot affair. Its popularity grew after its theatrical release, and nine years later, writer-director Adam McKay and star/co-scribe Ferrell hope to get the people back to revering Ron Burgundy as "kind of a big deal" with "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues." By law, a movie sequel has to step up its game since the novelty of the original is already long gone. Like most glorified feature-length sketches, it's slapdash and uneven, but despite the occasional stretch of dead air and desperation, this clamored-for sequel embraces its own absurd silliness and is so overstuffed with jokes that if one doesn't land, another tickles that funny bone where it counts more often than not.

Since we saw them last—it's out with the '70s and in with the '80s—Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are married, have raised 7-year-old son Walter (Judah Nelson), and are New York City's finest husband-and-wife anchor team. After veteran newsman Mack Harken (Harrison Ford) is bound for retirement, Veronica gets promoted to be the successor and Ron is fired, resulting in the couple's marriage to fall apart. Months later, Ron is already washed-up as a dolphin show announcer at SeaWorld before Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) finds him and recruits him to join the 24-hour news network GNN in NYC. Naturally, Ron sees no better time than the present to get the gang back together, rounding up loud, cowboy-hat-wearing sportscaster-turned-chicken restaurateur Champ Kind (David Koechner); mustachioed reporter Brian Fontana (Paul Rudd); and moronic weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). Once Ron & Co. get acquainted none too well with handsome primetime anchor Jack Lime (a perfectly smarmy James Marsden)—Ron later calls him "Jack Lame"—and they realize their boss is Linda Jackson (Meagan Good), who's black and a woman, they'll have to stay classy if they want to get monster ratings. 

Self-indulgent in the extreme and in need of some sharper editing shears, "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" is very hit-and-miss throughout, but it's still pretty funny. Everything gets hurled at the wall, and when a joke or gag sticks, it inspires genuine laughter. When San Diego's former Channel 4 News team first reunites, they toss off an arsenal of throwaway one-liners and asides or contend with a bit of weird and wacky nonsense, like Champ serving fried bats instead of fried chicken, Brian photographing kittens in the interim, or their RV ride on auto-pilot. And any inane non-sequitur that jets out of Brick's mouth is usually guaranteed for a chuckle. Instead of a "Pleasure Town" fantasy interlude standing in for a sex scene, there is the hilarious use of "Diff'rent Strokes." But then there's Ron speaking in Ebonics as a poor attempt to bridge the race-relations gap at dinner with Linda and her family, a scene which is intended to be outrageous but just comes off strained and lazily blunt. As media sexism was the underlying satirical target of the 2004 film, there are a few blithely bitey moments of satirical skewering here with the revolution of around-the-clock news and the pandering, dumbed-down notion that viewers would rather tune in for the news they want to see and not what they need to see. GNN's ratings skyrocket as soon as Ron gives hollow commentary to a car chase being recorded on the monitor (at the same time, Veronica's interview with Yasser Arafat goes off the air) and insists to Linda that the screen be crowded with crawls and more graphics.

Ferrell is such a valuable comedian with brilliant comic timing that he still manages to make the boorish, irrepressible Ron Burgundy hard to resist, and his "salon-quality hair" and loyal terrier Baxter return. He can ad-lib a line like the best of them ("Tony Danza's scrotum!" is one of several Ron-isms) and constantly walks the fuzzy line between playing this character as a hilariously huggable doofus and a merely obnoxious village idiot. The rest of the returning cast is game, particularly Rudd, Koechner, and Carell. In particular, Carell takes it there with full commitment as the zany, out-to-lunch Brick, who has an amusing late moment in being the voice of reason. It hardly matters that the sequel disregards the last film's epilogue that noted he'd be married with 11 children, considering Brick is just a walking, grinning punchline anyway. Applegate pops in and out as Veronica, too, but she's mostly wasted playing a naggy version of her opinionated, independent former self. Taking Veronica's spot mostly is Good as the smart and tough Linda Jackson, who goes for what she wants, and the actress surprisingly holds her own. Finally, existing merely as an only-one-note-allowed caricature out of an SNL sketch, Kristen Wiig is her delightfully quirky self as GNN secretary Chani, Brick's clueless female equivalent and new love interest. She and Carell engage in an improvisational free-for-all at work and on their first date at a laundromat's soda machine, but their shtick ranges between oddly amusing and flat.

There comes a point where the "plot" goes on a tangent, shoehorning in a character's blindness and the addition of Ron's pet shark named Doby, and the laughs wind down or just don't exist. Then before it looks like McKay and Ferrell have used up all their ideas on the first 90 minutes, there's a climactic rumble reheated from the first film that results in an even loopier, more inspired bit of lunacy. Selling the tried-and-true hook of star cameo recognition as the main joke, this rumble is giddily surprising and awesomely bonkers, sparing no expense by throwing in everyone but Seth Rogen and Ben Stiller. Had "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" trimmed some of its long-winded beats so the wheezing death of the failed jokes didn't linger, the laughs that actually work wouldn't feel so spaced out and forgotten. However, in a late-year season of Oscar contenders, it's not a bad way to laugh yourself silly 60% of the time. Give it a few years and this sequel might become more quotable and memorable with repeated viewings.

Grade: B -