Joyously Unhinged "Anchorman 2" Bests Its Predecessor

Great Odin’s raven! Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have done it! While damn near every comedy with the number “2” attached to its title has gone down in flames, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” kills. For two straight hours. A Google search reveals that scientists aren’t quite sure how many muscles it takes to smile, but I can assure you that all of mine were exhausted by the end of “Anchorman 2.” My laughter was constant, my mind consistently boggled by how increasingly deranged the film became. But where it truly surpasses the original is in its razor sharp social commentary. The undercooked satire of the first film was merely a byproduct of its story. Here, it’s front and center. And it’s perfect.

Has it really been a decade since Ron Burgundy and his Channel 4 News Team first assembled in theaters? Its box office take was modest, but I – and lots of my friends – saw it in theaters many times. Word of mouth built slowly through its DVD release in December of 2004, where it was an instant smash. But writer-director McKay and Ferrell had a no-sequel policy at the time, instead going on to make “Talladega Nights” and “Step Brothers.” When they finally became interested in revisiting “Anchorman,” Paramount inexplicably balked.

After much squabbling over budgetary concerns, the world finally has their favorite fictional newsman back. His team remains intact – Paul Rudd as Brian Fantana, Steve Carell as Brick Tamland, and David Koechner as Champ Kind. Also returning is Christina Applegate as Ron’s on-again-off-again lover, Veronica Corningstone. Newbies Dylan Baker (as Ron’s mentor), James Marsden (as a hotshot anchor), Kristen Wiig (as Brick’s equally inept love interest), and Meagan Good (as Ron’s new boss) round out the supporting cast, but they’re hardly indicative of the film’s star power.

McKay and Ferrell wisely save most of the major cameos for later in the film, allowing Ron and company to settle into their roles on their own terms. Set in the late 70s and early 80s, the film’s primary conceit is this – Ron Burgundy’s gig as a network news anchor is short-lived, forcing him to latch onto an upstart cable news channel, GNN. Soon his buffoonish instincts take over, forever changing the landscape of news. Goodbye political accountability, hello car chases and sex scandals. Corporate “synergy” is the target of many jokes, all of which pulverize their mark into chalky bits.

More impressively, the screenplay sparsely relies on callbacks to its predecessor, carving out a new, even more bizarre comedic corner for itself. From the word “go,” it’s obvious that the pic’s intent is to shatter any pretense of political correctness. The first act features multiple suicide jokes, the second act is loaded with racial humor, and the third act makes the absurdity of the first film seem like a distant, hazy memory. The devil-may-care climax is as weird and as funny as anyone could hope for, and somehow it’s all capped off by a surprisingly delicate moment between Ron and his son.

Carell, Rudd, and Koechner are given little to do within the narrative, but their screen time is spent wisely on some major laughs. The handful of scenes between Carell and Wiig are especially memorable, the writers seemingly doing the impossible – humanizing Brick Tamland. But the film’s funniest moment might be Ron’s performance of a mournful ballad about a great white shark. The sheer lunacy of the scene – and everything that follows it – is nothing short of gleeful, a testament to wonder that is Will Ferrell and his creative team.

Some terrible green screen effects and a few ugly instances of dubbed dialogue don’t do the screenplay any favors, but these gaffes are balanced out by some hilarious intentional lapses. Leave it to McKay and Ferrell to get a laugh out of a jump cut. Even some of the sets – like Ron’s pallid apartment – are worthy of some chuckles. The pic was clearly built from the bottom up – not lazily drawn like so many sequels – and the hard work pays off in a major way.

As much as I adored “Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy,” its sequel is better. It’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, but there it is. “Anchorman 2” is McKay’s most confidently crafted film to date, it’s absolutely stuffed with jokes, its pointed criticism of the news media is a natural fit, and the cast is uniformly energized. In retrospect, the first film was very much a product of the studio system – irreverent but hardly pushing the envelope. This is a different story altogether, with its creators seemingly in full control. And it’s a sight to behold. I’ve never laughed so hard in a theater.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Good)

Release Date: December 18, 2013
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Adam McKay
Screenwriter: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Paul Rudd, Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Dylan Baker, Meagan Good
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence)