In theaters Wednesday, December 18
2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Hmmm. Maybe Ron Burgundy’s latest escapades will also grow more hilarious with each successive airing on HBO. For now, however, this sequel underwhelms.
Not counting those ubiquitous Dodge Durango commercials, it’s been nine years since we’ve seen the self-serious, egotistical and lovably misogynistic San Diego anchorman (Will Ferrell). Here’s your 1980 update: He’s separated from cohort love Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) and sacked from his job. As his boss (Harrison Ford, in cameo No. 1) puts it, “Ron, you’re the worst newscaster ever.”
Desperate for work, he takes a risk and joins the launch team of a 24-hour cable network called GNN. Remember, this is the early Reagan era, so Piers Morgan isn’t on-hand to give him a hard sell. To stay classy and sassy, he recruits his ole’ “Afternoon Delight” team, Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), to sit beside him at the desk. Their first set piece all together occurs on a highway as they huddle in the back a RV that Ron has put on cruise control — which, naturally, results in an outrageous slo-mo crash. Yeah, we’re talking about that kind of humor.
Rest assured that it's a joy to see the goofy gang reunite and smell the ‘80s. These are comedic masters who can entice giggles just from standing around a newsroom looking slack-jawed. How ingenuous to place them in a fast-paced NYC surrounding and have them challenge their well-coifed rival (James Marsden) to a ratings duel. And there's a palpable magic when the guys go live for the first time and cleverly kick-start a new era of salacious TV. Hey, keep a camera on that potentially deadly freeway car chase! Let’s stick poor Brick out in a hurricane and watch him almost fly away like Mary Poppins!
But from there, the story dramatically thins out. No wonder director Adam McKay fluffs out the two-hour offering with montages set to gooey Lite FM hits. (That said, Kenny Loggins’ “This is It” still holds up). The narrative also lapses into way-absurd vignettes akin to Saturday Night Live sketches that air at 12:55 AM. A slow-witted romance between Brick and Kristen Wiig’s super-introverted office assistant is particularly clumsy.
With comedy sequels, the pressure is always on to crank the laugh-o-meter up to an 11. But the undertaking proves impossible when fan-audiences can anticipate all the familiar set-ups before they unfold onscreen. (One example: The guffaws that ensue when krazy Ken Jeong jumps on the screen for the first time in The Hangover versus its lesser sequel). Which leads us to the climactic battle of the network stars. Though an impressive parade of big-time names rush to the scene, the sequence just can’t match the freshness or spontaneity of the original.
Not that you won’t laugh anyway. And that’s good news, indeed.