If over the next few days your friends begin exchanging such cryptic phrases as “lace man” and “chicken of the cave,” followed by helpless guffaws, the reason is clear. They’ve seen “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”
The follow-up to a classic is tough to pull off. “Anchorman 2” is Will Ferrell’s “Exile on Main Street” or “Physical Graffiti,” a somewhat baggy successor to a gem. It may not leave the same imprint on American culture as its super-quotable predecessor. But it has moments of howling hilarity and the improvisatory spirit that gave Ron Burgundy’s origin story its shaggy, ramshackle charm.
Having conquered the San Diego TV news market in the 1970s, then lost it all through hubris (shocking, isn’t it?) the obtuse news reader is recruited to help fill time in a new, 1980s concept: a 24-hour news channel. Ferrell, whose grasp on anvil-headed stupidity has never been firmer, rounds up his news team (Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner, a formidable band of cut-ups) to take New York by storm.
Ron’s path is impeded by the prettier, slicker hairdo anchoring the prime-time slot (James Marsden, who holds his own nicely). He also runs afoul of his sultry African-American boss (Meagan Good). When they meet he can’t stop blurting out the word “black.” When they become an item and he greets her prim and proper family with thug slang, it gets exquisitely uncomfortable.
“Anchorman 2” communicates an almost childlike delight in big, silly, naughty jokes. Ferrell, who again shares writing credits with director Adam McKay, salts some savvy satire into the script.
Ron accidentally invents every pernicious, substance-strangling trend in today’s ratings-driven TV news ecosystem. The cable news channel is even owned by a greedy, corrupt Australian (Josh Lawson). I wonder who inspired that?
The film’s strong suit, however, is its unhinged, anything-for-a-laugh audacity. If somebody thinks there ought to be a 10-minute detour from the central plot to blind Ron and exile him to a remote lighthouse, that happens. Would it be entertaining to see him and his pals tossed about, slo-mo, in a crashing Winnebago full of boiling deep-fry grease, bowling balls and live scorpions? In it goes. The screenplay trashes comedy conventions — the friends-lost-and-regained formula, the dad’s race to his child’s recital — with infectious glee.
I left the theater having laughed a lot, but mildly dissatisfied — mildly! — because of the erratic sketch-comedy pacing and the random nature of often haphazard gags. It’s such a pleasure when scenes actually develop and build upon each other and lead to payoffs down the road, rather than just stacking up as much randomly goofy material as possible. Soothing narration by Bill Kurtis smooths over most of the bumps.
Then again, a classically constructed comedy could never build to the stupendous comic melee that caps the action here, with heaps of big-name cameo players in a gladiatorial battle royal. If I had to choose between tidy construction and belly laughs, wall-to-wall crazy wins every time.