“Anchorman 2” opens Wednesday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinema. PG-13, 1:19, two and a half stars out of four.
At one point in “Anchorman 2,” Ron Burgundy bottle-nurses a shark back to help, and then gently sets it free in the wild, where it happily devours other fish to the strains of a “Born Free”-like ballad.
What does this have to do with early-’80s newscasting, exactly? Nothing, which is part of its genius. It’s just one of those random moments that longtime partners Adam McKay and Will Ferrell like to throw into their films, just because they can.
“Anchorman 2” could have used a little more of that anarchic spirit. It’s certainly consistently amusing, with some big laughs and a surprisingly sharp satirical scalpel. But it falls prey to the trap that awaits so many sequels — how do you give the audiences exactly what it wants again, only bigger and better?
Part of what “Anchorman 2” is lacking is the element of surprise — the original film snuck into theaters in 2004, when Ferrell was just coming into his own as a comedic movie star, bewildering some with its gleeful devotion to a high-concept mix of bizarre catchphrases, spot-on ’70s satire, and daffy sweetness. It’s oddness was so embracable and quotable that it became a cult classic, and will likely be watched as long as the world has brews and views. “Anchorman 2,” on the other hand, arrives on a wave of advance publicity so colossal that McKay and Ferrell may have been trying to satirize the whole concept of a massive pre-publicity campaign; why else have Ron co-anchor the local news in Bismarck, North Dakota, or host the curling championships in Winnipeg? You could see that mustache coming a mile away.
This time around, newscaster Ron Burgundy and his San Diego news team have gone national, joining the fledgling Global News Network in the not-that-coveted 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. slot. Ron is disrespected at every turn, by his wife-turned-competitor Veronica Corningstone (Christine Applegate), and from GNN’s star anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden). But the twist here — and it’s a good one — is that while Ron was behind the times in the first “Anchorman,” he’s ahead of the curve when it comes to cable news. Instead of delivering serious news, he and the news team serve a ratings-grabbing mix of cute puppies, live car chases, celebrity dish and mindless jingoism that viewers lap up. “Stay classy” fades, replaced by “Don’t just have a great night. Have an American night.”
It’s a very pointed slam at the state of 24-hour news, likely validated by how many news outlets have covered the opening of “Anchorman 2” as if it were a real news story. McKay and Ferrell get in some good shots at corporate takeover of news (in the form of GNN’s Richard Branson-like CEO).
Which is not to say that “Anchorman 2” is at all high-minded; there are still plenty of goofy gags involving Ron’s unease with having an African-American boss (Meagan Good) — “Are you sure it’s not ‘African-and-American,’ like ‘fish-and-chips?” he asks her) or his general fatuousness. Paul Rudd plays disco-era sleazebag Brian Fontana to perfection, David Koechner has become even more offensive as the racist, probably closeted sportscaster Champ Kind. And Steve Carell goes positively Dada as weatherman Brick Tamland, whose dimwitted musings have devolved to spastic grunts and yells.
So all the elements are there, but there’s just not quite enough to hang a two-hour movie on. The film revisits the “Anchorman” highlight reel – the jazz flute solo, the midair leap, and a climactic news team fight with much bigger cameos and artillery than in the first movie. It’s entertaining, but also sort of exhausting. “Anchorman 2” is worth seeing for the first time, but it’s not as good as seeing “Anchorman” for the sixth time.