What should one make of Ron Burgundy? The news-reading super anchor played by Will Ferrell at the center of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” is a patently ridiculous character, pompous and absurd and entirely over the top. He veers between irritating and charming, between lovable and repulsive, between dumb, smart and dumb-smart. He’s a buffoon and a genius, a man who never quite makes sense, but somehow holds together anyway.
That makes Burgundy a reasonably good proxy for the movie itself, and will provoke reactions accordingly: I laughed. I cackled. I cringed. I rolled my eyes. Occasionally all at once.
Like its predecessor, “Anchorman 2” is a deeply silly riff on the world of television news. Instead of local broadcasts, however, the subject this time is the world of 24-hour cable news networks. The movie is set in the early 1980s, at the dawn of the all-day-news era, but much of its satire is targeted at contemporary cable news practices — especially round-the-clock fluff stories about celebrities, cute animals and car chases.
In the movie’s telling, that format was created by Ron Burgundy and his news team to solve a problem — that news is fundamentally boring. The trick to locking in audiences is to tell them what they want to hear. So Burgundy and his news crew, working the night shift at fledgling cable news network GNN, ditch the serious news format for something more overtly entertaining.
The shift in coverage makes ratings history, and changes news forever — for the worse, we’re supposed to understand. The choice changes the movie, too, and not always for the better. Plenty of the news-oriented gags land (my favorite involved the layering of a mass of chaotic graphics on the screen, mocking the cable-news trend toward graphics overload). But the satire is not always as sharp as it could be, and sometimes verges on preachy. And the movie’s comedy suffers from the fact that comedy news broadcasts like “The Daily Show” already mine much of this territory on a regular basis.
Fortunately, “Anchorman 2” is not single-mindedly focused on the news. Many of the scenes veer off into a form of abstract hilarity that tends to be both bizarre and hilarious. There are extended bits on the virtues of fried bat and novelty condoms, bowling balls and a scorpion, and a lengthy late-film sequence in which Ron Burgundy goes blind and raises a pet shark.
It’s weird, weird stuff. For the most part, it’s also really funny. The problem is that it’s so fractured from the main story. Every now and then, a hint of this exuberant absurdity elbows its way into the newsroom: A scene in which Burgundy’s moronic co-anchor Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) screams in despair as his legs disappear from a shot while reading the weather (he’s wearing green pants, which are digitally erased) is delightfully nuts. But these riotous riffs often feel disconnected from the larger film, like brilliant comedy sketches that have found their way into a just-OK comedy about cable news.
Most of the movie’s funniest bits — many of which appear to have been improvised — involve Burgundy’s news team, which includes Brick as well as Brian Fontana (Paul Rudd) and Champ Kind (David Koechner). The overstuffed cast also includes Christina Applegate, James Marsden, Greg Kinnear, Kristen Wiig, Meagan Good and Harrison Ford. The underwhelming finale is built around a metaphorical cable news battle featuring a slew of star cameos. It doesn’t quite work the way it’s supposed to, and it’s all a little too pleased with itself, but even still it did make me laugh quite a bit — rather like Ron Burgundy himself.
TITLE: “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”
CREDITS: Directed by Adam McKay; written by Will Ferrell and Mr. McKay
RATING: PG-13 for toilet humor, profanity
RUNNING TIME:119 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS