The "Anchorman" team hits the 1980s in the inevitable sequel. Credit: Paramount Pictures
‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ Director: Adam McKay Stars: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell Rating: PG-13 4 (out of 5) Globes
As a performer, Will Ferrell tends to stand stiffly and shout and make loud noises and generally do everything he can to attract attention. But he’s by nature a collaborator. There’s a marked difference between the Will Ferrell in for-hire movies, like “Blades of Glory” and “The Campaign,” and the Will Ferrell who writes with director Adam McKay. “Anchorman,” from 2004, was the first of these, and one can detect in it, ‘”Talladega Nights,” “Step Brothers,” and “The Other Guys” a next level creativity that comes with working with someone even more in love than he with absurdism that often slides into full-bore surrealism.
This is to say, if someone’s going to do a rehash of a modest hit that became an overly-quoted cult sensation, it might as well be Ferrell and McKay. “Anchorman” was a regularly odd movie, but “Anchorman 2” goes even farther. Now somewhere in the early 1980s — with the obligatory carousel of the period’s pop song cheese — Ferrell’s well-coifed, haughty but incompetent Ron Burgundy has transplanted to New York City. He loses his job and his wife (Christina Applegate), but suddenly finds himself working with a new channel launching a dangerous, crazy-sounding thing called “24 hour news.”
CNN and Fox News are silly enough as is that the digs at them are only moderately amusing. But despite their love for them, topical jokes have never been Ferrell and McKay’s true strengths. Nonsense and nonsequiturs are. McKay has only gotten more confident with going deep into the weird since 2004, and as ever he leads his sprawling cast to some deeply strange places, be it alpha male blowhard “Champ” Kind (David Koechner) opening a chain that offers fried bats or a news segment ranking the best ever female genitalia (number two: Madame Curie).
The sequel regurgitates a couple couldn’t-resist moments from number one, to admittedly only slightly diminishing returns: it’s hard to top that one’s leftfield melee, but not for a herculean amount of trying. And it’s sad that Applegate, who surprisingly held her own in the nakedly feminist first, gets booted so early. There’s a lack of instant classic quotables, but given how ubiquitous “Anchorman 1” lines are on t-shirts and at sports bars, that’s probably a good thing.
Besides, there’s little use complaining with the ad-libs that get in. Still, it’s worth remembering that McKay and Ferrell aren’t just about improv. They’re expert plotters, who keep hitching the story with insane hairpin turns, including a late second act twist that will probably alienate a chunk of the audience who just came to hear Burgundy talk about being kind of a big deal. For filmmakers who rely on the nutty throwaway line, they know the funniest stuff is often the material you think up long before the digital cameras roll. You can’t just improvise a minotaur.