Adam McKay made his feature directorial debut nine years ago with “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” — still the funniest showcase for the talents of Will Ferrell, McKay's frequent writing partner. Their subsequent collaborations — “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006), “Step Brothers” (2008) and “The Other Guys” (2010) — have been less satisfying ... which may explain why they're gone back to the vineyard for a second serving of Burgundy.
The character certainly inspired McKay and Ferrell the first time around: they shot so much decent material that an entire film, “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie,” was assembled from the leftovers as a DVD extra. The nearly decade-long hiatus has recharged that inspiration, but, like so many sequels, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” falls short of its model.
And I do mean “model”: The new film follows the same template, even when the current manifestations of old shtick fall far short. It's now roughly 1980: Ron and sometimes rival Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) have gotten married, moved to New York, and produced a son (Judah Nelson), now 8 years old. When venerable retiring network anchorman Mack Harken (Harrison Ford, channeling Dan Rather) fires Ron and names Veronica as his replacement, the marriage disintegrates, and Ron starts drinking again, eventually lowering himself to narrating performances at Sea World.
But out of nowhere, a producer (Dylan Baker) taps Ron for an anchoring gig at a new unheard-of type of venture — GNN (Global News Network), a 24-hour news station. Ron reassembles his old team — reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), and sports reporter Champ Kind (David Koechner) — and takes them to New York. To his dismay, he learns that he is to play second fiddle (or third or eighth or ninth) to Jack Lime (James Marsden), an arrogant pretty boy. Lime gets prime time; Ron and colleagues are assigned the graveyard shift.
Both Burgundy films get most of their laughs from the sheer blind idiocy of Ron and his all-male posse, but — as in the underrated “The Other Guys” — it ups the (admittedly low) level of political satire. Ron initially triumphs by instinctively changing the culture at GNN from early CNN into the once and future Fox News. With the network's “news” dominated by opinionated blustering, mawkish human interest, hollow patriotic declarations, and live high-speed car chases, GNN becomes a phenomenon.
Although it's not as funny as “Anchorman,” there are plenty of laughs to be had, most frequently courtesy of Carell, who takes Brick to new levels of idiocy, with a major assist from Kristen Wiig, as his even more naive girlfriend. Ferrell, however, is far less sharp this time; his exclamations of surprise — in the form of “Great Odin's raven!” or “By the beard of Zeus!” — don't even compare well with the improv outtakes last time around.
For the first two-thirds, the excellent cast keeps “Anchorman 2” afloat. But, in imitation of “Anchorman,” the final third does a less clever version of Ron's fall and redemption that helps stretch the length to an overlong two hours. Similarly grasping (but somewhat more amusing) is the final battle, a reprise of “Anchorman”'s news team rumble. Many of the same faces show up, plus a bunch of newbies, including some really big stars. There's a mediocre additional scene at the end of the closing credits that only completists will find worth the wait.
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun