Here's a thought. What would you have said if, eight years ago, somebody told you that the world would – at Christmas, no less – grind to a halt for a sequel to The Stepford Wives or (wrack your brains) Ladder 49. You'd phone for the chaps with the butterfly nets. Right? Yet both those films made more at the 2004 box office than Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
The bald figures do, however, conceal certain truths. Concerned with a very American phenomenon – the growth of 1970s big-hair journalism in Southern California – Anchorman was barely released outside its home country. But the film was a significant hit in one island nation at the top-left corner of Europe. Yes, plucky Ireland has once again punched above its weight. We are, as much as anybody else, to blame for the fact that Will Ferrell has, this merry season, been more on show than Santa Claus.
Elsewhere in the world, the Anchorman phenomenon grew slowly and steadily through ancillary media. This time round, no territory will remain unmolested. Happily for the team, the new film's milieu is one with a greater global recognition factor: round-the-clock news babble.
We first meet Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his wife, Veronica Corningstone-Burgundy (Christina Applegate), living a comfortable life in the middle reaches of the media hierarchy. Then a slot becomes available on primetime. When Veronica takes the job, Ron storms off to a life of penury that takes in work as an announcer at Sea World (a somewhat unfortunate plot twist, considering that park’s current public relations catastrophes).
But a new era is at hand. Burgundy is offered a job in a 24-hour news station and – despite seeing the concept as ridiculous – sets out to bring the old team together.
The Legend Continues is painfully attuned to the many cliches it skirts and subverts. As if gathering the experts for a heist, Ron extracts mad weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) from his own funeral; slick operator Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) from life as an animal photographer; and semi-repressed Republican Champ Kind (David Koechner) from his highly dubious fried-chicken franchise. Soon, they are changing paradigms in New York City.
Nobody would confuse Anchorman 2 and its bulldozer satire with the BBC's legendary The Day Today. But there's no question that, despite all the low-brow anarchy, the film is driven by anger at what happened to TV news during the 1980s. The boys work for a station owned by a someone younger, but every bit as ruthless and Australian as Rupert Murdoch. Whereas Ron's stupidity offered some slight hindrance to his progress during the 1970s, in the new era that foolishness only accelerates his rise to the top.
A key scene finds the team scrabbling for a story to compete with Veronica’s upcoming interview with Yassar Arafat. At the last minute, they happen upon helicopter footage of a car chase in some central part of the country. The nation tunes in en masse and a fresh form of garbage-chute news is born: patriotic monologues, cute animal stories, endless shots of speeding Ford Broncos.
Anchorman mainly exists, however, as a vehicle for Ferrell to deliver non-sequiturs to a receptive audience. For most of its duration, the picture exhibits enough satirical ballast to distract from its proudly sloppy structure. Then, in the last 20 minutes, the edifice starts to rattle at the joints.
The writers are good at making fun of tired movie formulae (Ron’s continuing inability to make his son’s recitals, for instance) but fail to come up with many worthwhile replacements of their own. By the close, we have given in to a shamelessly indulgent conflagration constructed to facilitate as many celebrity cameos as possible.
The bloke behind me almost died laughing when the person playing the French-Canadian lady turned out to be an actor who had appeared in other, very different films. If you find that sort of thing funny, then Anchorman 2 is the sort of thing you find funny.