Unlike with most comedy sequels, there is a sense that this all could have worked. Ron Burgundy and his news team friends are so absurdly unaware of themselves that the usual constraints of a second installment in a comedy franchise need not have applied.
Director Adam McKay and stars Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, David Koechner and Christina Applegate are so gifted at ad-libbing that the temptation to revisit and reuse jokes from the original is one that could be ignored. Sadly, those constraints were still applied and the opportunity to tell a few new jokes with the same old crew was missed. In so doing, the follow-up to one of my favorite comedies of all-time -- a film almost a decade in the making -- was a profound disappointment -- the cinematic equivalent of a story-topper in a depressing, grating competition with its former self. Anchorman 2 picks up years after the original, with Ron and Veronica Corningstone firmly established as weekend anchors at a national broadcast network.
Though they seem happy raising their son Walter (Judah Nelson), they are soon pitted against each other again when the anchor ahead of them in the pecking order signals that he is ready to retire. Ron, still far inferior to Veronica as a journalist, of course loses out to her and is soon cast out of the network altogether. When a 24-hour cable news network clearly modeled on CNN launches and offers him a chance to mount a comeback, it's time for the news team to assemble again.
Up through that point, at least, the film has its moments. Unusually, for a comedy sequel, the machinations needed to reunite Ron with Champ Kind, Brick Tamland and Brian Fantana feel natural enough. This probably because Ron and company are so unpredictable that pretty much anything feels like it could happen to this crew. The spirit of the original is there, at least, if not the newness.
At one point, Ron, Champ, Brick and Brian are catching up in the back of an RV. Out comes a bowling ball. Ron starts a deep fryer. The camera bounces over to a terrarium with a scorpion inside. The series of non sequiturs are a signal something ridiculous is about to happen. What could these things possibly have to do with each other, and why are we seeing them now? Just as you ask the question, you know the answer -- no one is actually driving the RV and this handful of seemingly random objects are about to serve their purpose. It's a new piece of slapstick comedy, but with the context of the first film, the anticipation almost makes it better than it would have been the first time around.
Unfortunately, the spontaneity and randomness of Ron Burgundy's world too often gives way to a haphazard tribute to our first glimpse in to it. McKay and company seem to be checking boxes with most of the subsequent gags. Of course we need another cross-network anchor brawl with even more outrageous cameos, they seem to be saying, afraid to let what really made the first film so outstanding shine through in the second. Even some of the gags that aren't repeats of the original Anchorman feel recycled; Ron's temporary blindness is awfully reminiscent of Ricky Bobby's paralysis in Talladega Nights.
Anchorman 2 feels like it was made by people desperate not to mar the legacy of its predecessor, which is too bad because McKay, Ferrell and the rest should realize that its legacy is unimpeachable. They should also know that fans of the original loved it not because of the exact jokes that were in it but because of the feeling that anything could and would happen. The sequel has an air of familiarity and with it predictability, running it counter to the very traits that made the original a modern classic.