Nearly a decade on from the original Anchorman film, affection for Will Ferrell's hapless newscaster Ron Burgundy has reached thermonuclear levels. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that this belated sequel is arriving on a wave of Burgundy-mania, where every marketing opportunity (ice-cream, trailer release, talk-show appearance, book tie-in) is treated as a major news event. In this, the character has its equivalent in the UK in Alan Partridge - as well as, of course, using its mocking take on broadcast-industry second-raters as a vehicle for broader social satire.
Well, lovers of Ron Burgundy - and I don't mean the kind who rev his engines - will find a lot to enjoy here. The Legend Continues picks up several years later with Burgundy co-anchoring with wife Veronica (Christina Applegate). A vacancy on the headline news show sees Veronica promoted but Burgundy fired; he is then hired by a maverick outfit (called GNN) bankrolled by an Australian billionaire (Murdoch meets Branson?) aiming to set up the first 24-hour rolling news channel. Presented with this chance to resuscitate his career, Burgundy does a Blues Brothers and gets the team back together; then heads for New York to take up duties behind the desk at GNN.
Ferrell and his co-writers have certainly not lost their abilities to conjure up a killer gag at regular intervals - such as the montage of bloopers that gets Burgundy fired; the choice crew with whom Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) goes on the pull - "OJ Simpson, Phil Spector, Robert Blake - they call us the ladykillers" - or indeed the way Burgundy believes Veronica's new lover, a psychologist, is a mind-reader.
If nothing else, it keeps the giggle quotient up, and offsets the queasier moments, such as the not-so-subtle latent tendencies of Burgundy's sports-jock pal Champ, or a distinctly misjudged jive-talk scene at an African-American family dinner. (Ferrell was perhaps inspired by Curb Your Enthusiasm's bad-taste race comedy, but conspicuously lacks Larry David's self-loathing necessary to get away with it.)
Following up a film of Anchorman's cult status is never easy, and Ferrell and cohorts have done their damnedest to avoid some obvious bear-traps. Few of the first film's much-repeated lines have survived to this one: only one person says "Stay classy", and it isn't Ferrell; while there's only a smidgeon of jazz flute. On the other hand, there's a plethora of famous-face cameos, all no doubt eager to shave off a little of the Burgundy cred, and it's sad to report Kristen Wiig is not well served in her scenes as the love interest of Brick (Steve Carell).
Then, in its middle act, Anchorman 2 rather improbably segues into message-movie territory. Desperate to put one over on GNN's slick daytime anchor, Burgundy comes up with a plan to go popular: live car chases, extreme weather incidents, and down-home patriotism. His estranged wife's interview with Yasser Arafat is one of the first casualties of this slice of inspiration as Burgundy's ratings soar. It may or may not be Anchorman's place to offer a critique of the tabloidisation of TV news; the film, though, does begin to sag at this precise moment - leading to a final third that, despite being set up at the film's start, seems a pointless detour.
Be that as it may, this Anchorman sequel knows who its fans are, and does its best to keep them happy. No one will be complaining.
Original headline: Review Sequel drifts, but will keep the fans hooked Andrew Pulver: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues 24/40
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