Again Veronica (Christina Applegate) gets the better of Ron (Ferrell).

Again Veronica (Christina Applegate) gets the better of Ron (Ferrell).

Anchorman 2:The Legend Continues Opens Wed., Dec. 18 at Varsity, Pacific Place,

Anchorman 2:

The Legend Continues

Opens Wed., Dec. 18 at Varsity, Pacific Place, SIFF Cinema Uptown, and others. Rated PG-13. 119 minutes.

Like the shark that improbably figures in the plot of this overdue sequel, Ron Burgundy must keep moving forward. He doesn’t learn from the past, he never fundamentally changes, he can’t have a crisis of conscience or alter who he is—a boorish, borderline racist, male chauvinist pig who reached his zenith during the Jimmy Carter malaise years.

Or rather, Ron shouldn’t be made to change, but his creators, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, have frittered nearly a decade since their 2004 hit Anchorman. Maybe they’ve overthought the character a tad too much. While Ron has moved from San Diego in the mid-’70s to New York in the early ’80s, more time has passed outside the multiplex. So Ferrell and McKay are torn: Should they reassemble the old cast, add some fresh cameos, and package a bunch of sketches; or should they endeavor to actually say something about the news business?

Both approaches are crammed into one sporadically funny movie, but neither half will have you blowing soda out your nose. Fans will expect more Burgundy catchphrases and inanities from his cohort (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner). Those are there, but all the ad-libs can feel like a late show at the improv club after the audience has gone home. (McKay has said they’ll present a second DVD version of the film that doesn’t repeat one gag. I can believe it, even if I don’t want to see it.) For every line that scores, as when Koechner calls his meat substitute at a fast-food joint “chicken of the cave,” there are two dozen clunkers that an outside editor would’ve cut. Oddly, amid such riffery, the visual gags work better. The news team rolls its RV in slo-mo, unleashing a cascade of hot cooking oil, loose scorpions, and bowling balls. They later share a swank white Upper East Side bachelor pad decorated with Warhol-style portraits of themselves. When Ron’s crew demands more graphics at the upstart cable channel GNN, the TV screen fills with an insane proliferation of Onion-style tickers. These you’ll want to pause and read next year on video, because they’re often funnier—“Is a war between sharks and humans imminent?”—than what you’re hearing.

GNN is run by a rich Australian, equal parts Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch, who promotes “synergy” among his shady business interests. He’ll do anything for ratings, trying to rival the big three networks; but GNN isn’t FOX News, and this movie isn’t Network. Ron’s new philosophy of journalism is “I just don’t know why we have to tell the people what they need to hear. We should tell them what they want to hear.” All of which leads to pandering, patriotism, puppies, and Ron’s shameless embrace of “what’s right with America.” This anticipates Roger Ailes and FOX, only without the politics, which negates any real satire. (And McKay and Ferrell know the difference: Recall their sketches and Broadway show lampooning George W. Bush.) It’s not Ron Burgundy who’s the paradigm of dumbed-down news in our time, it’s Megyn Kelly.

Ferrell is now 46, older, beefier, and considerably more prosperous than when he first devised the middle-aged, alcoholic character of Ron. He hasn’t grown into the role so much as grown past it. There are giant Motorola cell phones and predictable ’80s radio hits here, but Ron’s crybaby petulance—hidden beneath the macho bluster and hairspray—feels too small. Ferrell and McKay need a bigger target than the ratings chase to the bottom. Instead they settle for random character bits and pieces. (Kristen Wiig is wasted as a low-IQ love interest for Carell.)

“It’s total crap, and they can’t stop watching,” says one GNN executive. Oh, wait, are we talking about the news . . . ?

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