Those who have been longing for a sequel to “Anchorman” for nine years will find much the same menu of bizarre non-sequiturs and surrealistic stupidity in “The Legend Continues” as they loved in the original. But for those who found the 2004 picture numbingly awful—and there were quite a few of us—the only solace is that if history is any guide, there won’t be a third installment until 2022.
Will Ferrell returns as Ron Burgundy, the arrogantly imbecilic television news reader from San Diego. His story picks up in 1980, seven years after Burgundy was flummoxed by the addition of female Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) to his all-male team of dumbbells, including sleazy sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), wannabe stud reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and goofball weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). Now Ron and Veronica are married with a seven-year old son named Walter (Judah Nelson), co-anchoring a station’s secondary daily broadcast. When Mack Harken (Harrison Ford, who had a far meatier newsroom role in “Morning Glory”), the long-time anchor of the main newscast, decides to pack it in, he chooses Veronica as his solo successor and cans Burgundy, who winds up as the drunken host of San Diego’s Sea World amusement park. (The sequence there offers one of the script’s few amusing lines, when BP is announced as a sponsor devoted to saving the environment. It was also nice of Ferrell, as a parent, to cast his own kids as members of the audience.)
Burgundy gets canned from that gig too, but after a failed suicide attempt he’s cajoled by producer Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker, trying to hide behind a beard) to join the news team at a new venture in New York—the first 24-hour cable news station GNN (get it?) funded by Aussie airline mogul Kench Allenby (Josh Lawson). So he rounds up Kind, Fantana and Tamland, despite the fact that Brian is actually supposed to be dead, and the Four Stooges go off to the Big Apple to make history.
There’s the germ of a satirical idea in the script by Ferrell and Adam McKay (who also directed, with a complete absence of style), just as there was in the earlier film. Before it was the introduction of women into the world of TV journalism, and here it’s the dumbing-down of television news in the 24-hour cable format. But as before, there’s no edge in the treatment: apart from some buffoonish digs about broadcasts of car chases, overuse of graphics (actually a much more recent phenomenon), on-site coverage of bad weather and cute, steamy or ultra-patriotic “human interest” fluff, the rich satiric potential goes uninvestigated. Instead the emphasis is on “personal” stuff, life Burgundy’s attempt to reconnect with Veronica (complicated by her new live-in boyfriend, a psychologist played with smarmy slickness by Greg Kinneaer) and Walter, and the inexplicable crush on Ron that his boss Linda (Meagan Good) develops (which leads to an excruciating dinner scene with her family that riffs uncomfortably on racial stereotypes). But certainly the creepiest plot thread along these lines is the romance that develops between Brick and a secretary (Kristen Wiig) who’s as weird as he is.
There also has to be a rival to Burgundy, of course, and this time around it’s golden boy anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden), who initially has the prime-time slot on GNN. Their running feud leads to the big finale—a rumble in what’s meant to be Central Park involving teams not just from the cable station but from all sorts of other broadcast sources—The History Channel, MTV, the BBC, CBN, E!, and so on. This sequence contains so many cameo appearances by Friends of Will that it would add another page to this review to list them all. Suffice it is say that all of the guests seem to be coasting on improvised shtick that makes very little impression, laugh-wise. (Even an appearance by John C. Reilly as the ghost of Stonewall Jackson—a member of the History Channel team—comes across with a dull thud.) But then the stars of the movie are doing likewise.
There will be those who will appreciate “Anchorman 2,” just as many did the original, especially in its ancillary forms. (It wasn’t really a smash in theatres, but has become a VHS/DVD/Blu-ray phenomenon.) They’ll especially appreciate its recycling of bits from the first film, giving them a new spin in the process, and of some from other Ferrell pictures too. But while surrealistic comedy can be bracingly smart, this cartoonish, shambling, disjointed example of it remains as resolutely dumb as its characters. “The Legend Continues” panders to its audience as much as the cable news that it mocks.