McKay puts 'Anchorman 2' on cruise control; film doesn't drive itself

Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate pair up in "Anchorman 2."
December 29, 2013

The continued highs and lows of Sansabelt-slacked '70s broadcaster Ron Burgundy are once again charted in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” nearly a decade after we last left the San Diego newsman and his devoted crew.

Now on the cusp of the '80s, Burgundy (played by Will Ferrell) and company have since disbanded. He's traded his team for a tony New York City lifestyle with wife Veronica Corningstone (played by a pity-worthy Christina Applegate, who is sidelined for most of the middle of the picture), and their precocious young son, Walter.

When Veronica is informed that she is getting a prime-time anchor spot, it sends the egocentric Burgundy back down another spiral that ends with a gig as a hack Sea World announcer (though it oddly feels more like a tacked-on opening excuse just to get rid of Veronica so Ron can go back to his swinging-single lifestyle).

Ron is approached by a sunglass-clad pitchman (played by a laugh-free Dylan Baker) who speaks of the promise of a 24-hour news company beginning and how the old crew would be a perfect fit for an overnight slot.

This all sounds like ample turf to cover for the long-gestating sequel, which brings back Brian Fantana (played by Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (played by David Koechner) and Brick Tamland (played by Steve Carell), but despite sporadic funny business, the sequel offers only mildly amusing busy-ness.

The original had a simple battle-of-the-sexes story to tell, where the sequel takes on race and the current news culture, and sandwiches in a love interest for Brick (and Ron) as well as parenting lessons a la Burgundy. It’s far too overstuffed, overlong and overbearing, with a coda that feels both superfluous and rather ambiguous after its toothless attack on the state of the news industry.

The only time it really hits its stride is when it gently lays into the corporate state of the news, and the “fair and balanced” pandering to gullible Americans who will rally behind any image with a flag in it, but nothing that would make Sean Hannity break out in a sweat.

When the film concludes, Ron once again finds redemption with his friends and family, but he has single-handedly led news down its dark, depressing current course of info-tainment, so are we supposed to cheer or cry?

Newcomers include ultra-perfect prime-time anchor Jack Lime (played by James Marsden with his impeccable cheekbones), Linda Jackson (played by Megan Good) as Ron’s black female boss (a conceit that doesn’t pay off nearly as promisingly as one would think with the racially tone-deaf Burgundy), and Chani (played by Kristen Wiig) as Brick’s equally mentally challenged love interest. Seriously, why cast Wiig if the funniest thing you give her to do is wear men’s underwear?

Sure, the film goes on absurdist tangents as did the first, but it never takes the time to plumb the depths of their situations as the first did so successfully, resorting to some of the original's go-to gags for yet another round of chuckles (Look! Brian Fontana now has a hidden cache of condoms instead of cologne! Look! The news team street brawl now features even more celebrity guests!).

Director/cowriter Adam McKay is capable of truly sharp, bouncy comedies (“The Other Guys” was one of 2010’s funniest), but similar to Burgundy’s predicament early in this sequel, it feels as though he put the film on cruise control, thinking it would automatically drive itself. While it doesn’t meet the same disastrous conclusion that befalls our hero, it certainly doesn’t meet the same comedic one either.

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