Heading into "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," the question shouldn't be whether or not the sequel can top the original, because the answer is already obvious: it can't. When "Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy" arrived, Will Ferrell was still emerging as a leading man, and the box office results spoke to his multiplex popularity at the time: it was middling. But everyone knows the narrative by now, with 'Anchorman' catching much more fire on DVD, and becoming in the nine years since, nothing short of a relentlessly quotable contemporary comedy classic. And so to demand from 'The Legend Continues' a similar cult feeling and freshness is slightly unfair. But keeping it accountable to deliver where it counts -- with deep belly laughs -- is certainly more than reasonable, and by that metric the highly anticipated sequel does so, but unfortunately, not with the same consistency or quotability.
Picking up in 1980, the story finds Ron and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) married, raising their young son Walter (Judah Nelson) and successfully co-anchoring the weekend news on a national network. However, their happy union is split when Veronica is offered the plum gig of the nightly news, and takes the job despite Ron's ultimatum that she choose between him or her career. Cast adrift and suicidal, Ron is thrown a lifeline when he's recruited by GNN, a new network that will do something revolutionary -- deliver the news 24 hours a day. So the old team -- Brian (Paul Rudd), Champ (David Koechner) and Brick (Steve Carell) -- are rounded up and they head to Manhattan where trouble awaits. Not only are they given the graveyard 2 AM-5 AM shift, they are instantly locked in a feud with good looking prime time anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden).
As you would expect from a sequel, the characters are given a slightly bigger canvas to play on, but 'Anchorman 2' doesn't always seize the opportunities. Perhaps not surprisingly, most often when the film isn't working, it's because it's trying to replicate past gags. "Great Odin's raven" was hilarious in the first movie; the handful of attempts to create a similar one liner here fall flat. In 'Anchorman,' Brian unveiled his secret armory of powerful colognes, while this time around, he has a wall full of exotic condoms, in a sequence that's far less effective. The return of the jazz flute is, again, not quite as novel. Even Ron's first meeting with his new African-American boss Linda Jackson (a very game Megan Good) in which he can't stop saying "black," is a weaker iteration on Ron's boner raging encounter with Veronica in the original flick.
Perhaps even more problematic, is that the film often sags as much as it sings. Running two hours, and feeling every minute of it, 'The Legend Continues' doesn't come as fast and hard as its predecessor (even in its 104 minute, longer unrated cut that most people are familiar with). Without giving too much away, a section in which the rest of Ron's team are sidelined leaving him alone, drags the pace noticeably. It's here when the 'The Legend Continues' becomes too focused on plot, with a side story requiring Ron to be a better father being particularly uninvolving. Though, your mileage with some of the film may depend on how you feel about Brick, who pretty much becomes a fully fledged supporting character in this film, with much more screen time than either Brian or Champ. Entering a relationship with an equally mentally damaged co-worker named Chani (Kristen Wiig, matching her on screen partner step for step), Carell is given lots of opportunity to yell absurdities or make observations along the lines of "I love lamp," with none of them as memorable. In fact, a large portion of the character's negligible arc could've been cut without losing any meat or hilarity from the movie.
However, when the screenplay strides forward into new territory, and takes risks, the script by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell hits peaks just as high as anything in 'The Legend Of Ron Burgundy.' To talk about them would be to ruin a lot of great gags, which thankfully haven't been spoiled by the absurdly monumental campaign for this movie, but the last thirty minutes or so of the film are a riot. A massive setpiece initially seems like it could easily collapse in on itself, but when the many moving parts are allowed to go off the charts surreal, 'The Legend Continues' delivers the biggest, fullest laughs of the film. And as a whole, the sequel's best moments are those that take Ron into unknown territory, facing new challenges, with another third act sequence, centered around the anchorman regaining his mojo, a highlight.
As a director, if McKay hasn't pushed ahead technically (though this isn't the kind of the movie you watch for visual wizardry), he has made his political beliefs more prominent in recent years (remember those random credits for "The Other Guys"?). And he can't help inserting a little bit of that into 'The Legend Continues,' with Ron's recipe for his job revolving around this simple question (repeated twice in the movie in succession, so you don't miss it): "Why do we have to tell the people what they need to hear, why can't we just tell them what they want to hear?" McKay has no shortage of fun ribbing cable news networks for their focus on fluff rather than substance, all in the pursuit of ratings, with one character noting: "It's total crap, and they can't stop watching." But thankfully, this sort of proselytizing is few and far between, and not that insistent.
Ultimately, 'The Legend Continues' comes down to expectations; if you're looking for the first film, you won't find it here. Patchy as often as its outright hilarious, fantastically outrageous just as frequently as its forgettable and flatlining, the sequel winds up a bit better than a second tier Ferrell outing. It's largely not quite as inspired as the aforementioned "The Other Guys," but it's thankfully never treading water like "Semi Pro." You'll definitely want to change the channel to Ron Burgundy, but if you flip to something else when things get a little dull, we wouldn't blame you. [B-]