anchorman 2

Anchorman 2 is probably the funniest movie of 2013. I laughed harder and more often at it than any other film I’ve seen so far this year. But it’s far from the best comedy, failing to match up to the intelligence or heart of a good number of its contemporaries. And most disappointingly of all, it falls far short of its predecessor. We as a culture have slowly but surely come to fully appreciate the brilliance of 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Now, nine years later, the same cast and crew is back, but it’s hard to bottle lightning more than once.

The biggest obstacle in the way of The Legend Continues equaling the original is that it insists on having a plot. The first movie is a long parade of gags, strung together only by a sense of anarchic mischief. This one has to keep coming back not just to a story, but several different subplots as well, and it suffers for it.

The 70s are over, and Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) separates from his now-wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) after she lands a national news anchor position while he ends up jobless. He’s rescued from a SeaWorld-hosting funk by a new 24-hour cable news network that wants him to host a program. Ron rounds up the old gang (Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner) and together they travel from San Diego to New York City. There, they must learn to deal with a black female boss (Meagan Good), a smarmy rival newsman (James Marsden), and the challenges of finding enough news to fill 24 hours.

At the center of Anchorman 2 is a Network-lite story in which Ron Burgundy unwittingly leads journalism into every single terrible habit that plagues the profession today. With the “brilliant” idea to give people what they want rather than what they need, he introduces fluff human interest stories, sensationalistic true crime obsession, and empty cute animal segments to television news. Unlike Anchorman, this film has a point to make. And if it pulled it off, then it would be a nifty way for the movie to mix things up and possibly surpass the original. But the film is unwilling to commit to this. Cutting away to scenes with Brick Tamland courting his equal in intellectual extranormality (played by Kristen Wiig) files down the satirical teeth. The movie’s ultimate statement on the matter ends up being a throwaway line.

The movie is at its best when, as with its predecessor, all concerns for plot are tossed aside and it dives into whatever mad idea strikes its fancy. This becomes more prevalent in the second half, which involves Ron temporarily going blind, living in a lighthouse, and nursing an injured baby shark back to health. It’s gloriously random, even if it still can’t top the purity of Anchorman. As is expected of comedy sequels, this sometimes comes in the form of rehashing everyone’s favorite jokes from the original. In that respect, it’s a mixed bag, although this movie’s version of the news team fight skyrockets past the previous one’s through sheer escalation of absurdity.

None of the actors from the first film have skipped a beat in returning to their characters. Farrell is still the embodiment of pomposity, Carell of Ralph Wiggum-ness, Rudd of smarm, Koechner of repressing bravado. They’re also well-matched by many of the new additions to the cast. Wiig proves Carell’s equal when it comes to straight-faced alienness. Good plays up intimidating competitiveness for all its worth. And Marsden continues to demonstrate that he is an unsung national treasure by bringing back the 80s douche villain with pitch-perfect swagger. Disappointingly, though, Quince the dog goes underutilized as Baxter.

Anchorman 2 is a fun romp. But in the inevitable college pizza party double features of the years to come, those who watch it back-to-back with Anchorman will see the mood noticeably dampen as they switch from the first film to the second. The couples will pair off to go fool around, leaving only the awkward people to finish up this film in a genial but uncertain mood.