With nearly a decade between Anchorman 2 and the first Anchorman, released in 2004, the spontaneity and novelty that made the latter quirky, surprising and hilarious turns into a paradigm that makes the former less refreshing and certainly not as funny. Recycled gags, ongoing jokes and familiar scenarios often become hackneyed. Perhaps Adam McKay, who co-wrote and directed both films, thought we'd forget how loud Steve Carell's voice could reach.
Despite some reused material, some of them are bound to hit home - Ron's (Will Ferrell) literal interpretation of a teleprompter is still effective. And there are some fresh faces and reunited familiar ones that make the film entertaining.
After his wife Veronica (Christina Applegate) is promoted and becomes the first female nightly news anchor, Ron is fired from co-anchoring with Veronica on a New York City news station. Ron has since moved from San Diego which no longer begets his famous catchphrase. After leaving Veronica when she refuses Ron's ultimatum of choosing between either him or her new position, Ron leaves both his wife and son Walter (Judah Nelson) and grudgingly accepts a grave-yard time slot on a 24 hour news channel.
Forced to start from scratch, Ron decides to hire his original crew. Some unsavory fast food revelations, a slow-motion RV crash, an oddly erotic cat shoot, and one funeral later, the four men that made the original so enjoyable to watch are reunited.
However, Ron soon discovers he has to compete with a younger, handsomer news anchor - Jack Lime (James Marsden) - for ratings; and his new boss, Linda Jackson (Megan Good), a confident African American woman, puts Ron at unease for just those reasons. Ron has to adjust to new social practices, while also adapting to new modules for news dissemination.
But, in a moment of realization (and a self reflexive one that best captures what this film attempts to accomplish) Ron pitches the idea of giving audiences not what they need but what they want. All hard news - and integrity - is swept under the rug for soft news TV broadcasting segments: high speed car chases, weather, cats, sports, and the real-time effects of cocaine use.
Moments such as these are probably what McKay and Ferrell (who co-wrote the film) intended to do from the beginning. Hidden behind all the farcical plots and absurd characters, there's a subtext which severely criticizes what news has become. The film comically exploits this notion and creates a buffoonery not just out of the news heads who fill the nightly news with fluff pieces, but the audiences who beg for it. This revelation is perhaps the film's most poignant moment (all shark ballads barred).
Of course, this idea is scarcely explored and blanketed by the less serious tones of the film. From meteorology to mythology, Anchorman 2 offers the same medley of TV news and oddball humor. In one scene the bigoted Champ Kind (David Koechner) takes over a sports segment and in a montage of baseball clips - single-handedly (and single-wordedly) demonstrates the absurdity and lack of finesse a sportscaster's job entails.
The film also introduces new characters, such as Gary (Greg Kinnear) Veronica's lover and Ron's new sworn enemy. His character is a gentle-hearted psychologist, who seems to be cannon fodder for Ron's vitriolic rebukes but makes a memorable appearance during the film's climax.
Kristen Wiig is introduced as Brick's (Carell) love interest and rightly so - another awkward counterpart would not have been as well suited (Kristen Schaal maybe?).
The most memorable and sybaritic scene of the film (and thus far in McKay's career) is the inevitable climax that echoes a scene in the first Anchorman film. It's an over-the-top scene that escalates into a macabre scenario with big-name comedy stars, big-name stars in general, and, in maintaining with McKay's style, the borderline preposterous yet always, amazingly, humorous nature in which things unfold.
It's not all drab. Anchorman 2 has some good material; Seeing what porno aficionado Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) has in his secret wall-compartment this time is just as amusing the first time. However, the film stalls a bit on jokes that seem not in tune such as when Ron meets his visibly ethnic boss and explicitly makes a point about it - this scene borrows a similar gag used in Austin Powers in Goldmember which is either a nice homage or terribly unoriginal.
And in keeping with the film's offensive material, there are spurs of discriminatory remarks that are often scurrilous, other times a bit uncomfortable. This is evident when Good's character brings Ron home to meet her parents and as his past impious remarks have proven - he can't censor his thoughts. And as always, Ron's sexist remarks interject with a bravado-like velocity during his and Veronica's arguments. But if the first one didn't offend you, this one won't make a dent in your moral sense.
To give this film some credit, it has a tall shadow that precedes it. The first Anchorman introduced audiences to the Scotch-loving news anchor, Brick's fondness of room decor and, wait for it......sex panther. In it's lack of expectations, it easily surpassed them. Here what we have is a film that's probably one of Ferrell's best comedic-performance since Step Brothers, but falls short under the massive cult-following the original has garnered in the nine years since its release.