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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: He Is Legend

Successfully sequel-izing any film is a challenge, but the odds seem stacked particularly high against comedies. The peculiar alchemy that had audiences rolling in the aisles the first time around can very easily transform comic gold into lead when the creative team goes back for a double dip, even with all the same players in place.

Sure there are exceptions: Addams Family Values, for instance, is sharper and funnier than its tame predecessor, and Wayne's World 2 has some pretty great bits in it as well. But on the other side of the ledger, you've got Another Stakeout, The Hangover Part II, Analyze That, The Whole Ten Yards… the list goes on and on. (The results are slightly better for reunions that aren't direct sequels; each entry in Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy, for example, is distinctly funny in its own way. Lord knows that the Monty Python features, as well as the first three Muppets movies, don't exactly care about continuity. Even there though, success isn't guaranteed -- just look what happened when the cast of A Fish Called Wanda got back together and came up with Fierce Creatures) Sure, it's nice to temporarily ponder "Gee, what if they made another one?" after revisiting a one-and-done comedy masterpiece like Tootsie or Midnight Run. But remember that thoughts like that are precisely how we wind up with such movies as Be Cool.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the makers of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues got very, very lucky when they reassembled San Diego's finest news team -- newsreader Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), know-nothing sports czar Champ Kind (David Koechner), roving reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and weather guy Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) -- almost a decade after their last broadcast. Flabby though it may be at times, this sequel delivers a steady stream of laughs and, more importantly, doesn't diminish our goodwill for this bunch of idiots. Replicating the pizzazz of the first Anchorman must have been particularly challenging for Ferrell and his regular co-writer/director Adam McKay because the first film was very much a happy accident. Much like the early '80s comedies that clearly inspired it -- think titles like Top Secret! and Caddyshack -- the first Anchorman is essentially a series of loosely written comic sketches that were expanded and fleshed-out on set via improvisation and then assembled into vaguely chronological order in the editing room. (In fact, McKay famously had enough material left over from Anchorman's shoot to cut together an entirely different movie than the one released in theaters… and he did. It's called Wake Up, Ron Burgundy and it's deservedly less of a big deal than its counterpart.)

For better and for worse, McKay and Ferrell's post-Anchorman collaborations are more structured than their first film together. The 2010 cop comedy The Other Guys (my vote for their best overall movie), for example, has a story that's as practically complex as Pulp Fiction compared to the loose, shambling hijinks of Ron Burgundy's maiden voyage. Anchorman 2 is still largely bit-driven, but there's the distinct presence of a master plot here that its predecessor didn't bother with. Said plot involves Ron getting hired by a fledgling 24 hours news network in the days when that kind of operation was still viewed with skepticism by the industry at large. The film is deliberately vague about the exact year it's supposed to be taken place in, but the fashions, hairstyles and pop culture references scream early '80s.

If I tell you that the owner of this Global News Network (yes… GNN for short) is a quick-tempered Australian tycoon, can you guess what McKay and Ferrell might be up to with this premise? That's right, in the movie's version of events Ron Burgundy invented the opinion-driven, fact-challenged approach to reporting later perfected by Fox News. It's a style of broadcasting that horrifies Ron's estranged wife Veronica (Christina Applegate) and his new boss Linda Jackson (Meagan Good), but boy, does it do well in the ratings. Soon, GNN is the hottest station in news and Ron is the toast of the Big Apple. Naturally, all the success goes to his well-coiffed head, throwing up a wall between himself and his buddies, not to mention Walter (Judah Nelson), the cute, yet appropriately strange little boy that resulted from his stormy union with Veronica. Meanwhile, in an tacit acknowledgement that Brick is the probably the franchise's most popular character (and that Carell is now as big a star as Ferrell), Tamland gets his own running subplot, one that pairs him off with a gal pal (Kristen Wiig) who's almost as oblivious as he is.

Where Anchorman's tomfoolery ran a trim 90 minutes, Anchorman 2 bumps up against the two-hour mark, largely because McKay has to make room for extended comic riffs and plot-based material. And you do feel the movie's inspiration start to flag at a certain point, specifically during a lengthy second-act twist of fate for Ron that exists primarily to set up the movie's narrative endgame. Ferrell and McKay do their best to punch up this particular subplot with laughs, but it's hard to escape the feeling that it could -- and would -- have been excised if they didn't have to service an overarching story. (Similarly, as amusing as the two are together, the entire Carell/Wiig storyline could be dropped without missing a beat.) The other odd thing that this movie does that its predecessor generally avoided is providing other characters the leeway to comment on and call out Burgundy's buffoonery. Aside from being completely unnecessary (the joke, after all, is that Ron is successful because he's a moron), this approach throws off the rhythm of numerous scenes, with McKay inserting extra beats for incredulous reaction shots and flummoxed "Did he just say that?" double takes. After two movies, it's well-established that Ron Burgundy is an idiot -- you don't need other people within the frame telling you that.

Still, if Anchorman 2 lacks the loosey-goosey spirit of the first movie, it is frequently very, very funny. One of the benefits of the nine-year layoff between movies is that the core ensemble returns refreshed and ready to go, confident in who these characters are, how they interact together and what audiences want to see them do. (The new characters, on the other hand, are mostly forgettable, although James Marsden gets his smarmy on in amusing ways as a rival anchor.) And there is a fair amount -- some might say too much -- of fan service going on here, with numerous callbacks to major and minor bits of business from Anchorman. (Two words: Sex Panther.) The biggest of these shout-outs, of course, is the return of the iconic Newsman Rumble that served as the standout set-piece in the first movie. Fully aware that the fate of the sequel rests on them equaling or topping that sequence, McKay and Ferrell pull out all the stops, gifting moviegoers with a cameo-filled battle royale that goes to some delightfully bizarre places. That scene encapsulates Anchorman 2 in a nutshell: it's a bigger, longer version of Anchorman that's not really better, but fun to watch all the same.

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