'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues'

(Left to right) Paul Rudd is Brian Fantana, Will Ferrell is Ron Burgundy, David Koechner is Champ Kind and Steve Carell is Brick Tamland in "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues." (Gemma LaMana/Paramount Pictures / May 16, 2013)

Maybe if I liked the first "Anchorman" a little less, I'd like "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" a little more. Louder and crasser than the 2004 original, though God knows the first one had its share of jokes ending with phrases such as "massive erection" and "smelly pirate hooker," director and co-writer Adam McKay's sequel nonetheless offers a fair number of idiotic rewards.

In "Anchorman 2," Will Ferrell seems to be playing around with variations on the unctuous, clueless, preening Burgundy persona. Although the narcissistic news reader is more of an abrasive boor this time — nearly everyone on screen is — you appreciate the effort to experiment. Ferrell's deadpan (and unprintable) response to Greg Kinnear's line, "Ron, do you even know what 'psychology' is?" is a thing of unexpected beauty.

Loose and blithely inventive, the first "Anchorman" had much going for it, beginning with medium-low expectations and an ensemble of almost supernatural comic breadth and ability. Steve Carell's back as the brick-thick weathercaster, here very wisely matched up with a new character of similar IQ, emotional intelligence and straight-faced invention. She's played by Kristen Wiig, first seen staring, uncomprehendingly, at a push-button phone in the bustling offices of GNN, a newfangled 24-hour news network located in Manhattan. The time is 1980 or thereabouts.


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The old gang's back, including sports analyst Champ Kind (David Koechner) and investigative horndog Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd). Meagan Good plays Burgundy's GNN overseer, Linda Jackson, and new love interest, and here we come to an interesting question of tone-deafness. When does a comedy cross the line separating the depiction of boorish/sexist/racist/homophobic/whatever behavior and the tacit endorsement thereof? In "Anchorman 2," there's a weirdly unfunny sequence in which Jackson takes Burgundy home for dinner. He can't stop with the jive talk, and the longer it goes on — and the more McKay clunks it up with reaction shots — the less it clicks.

Now and then, "Anchorman 2" takes a stab at satiric commentary about the current state of cable news. Burgundy scores a success in his graveyard 2 a.m. shift when he transforms, essentially, into Sean Hannity, signing off his reports with: "Don't just have a great night. Have an American night." The movie goes only so far in this direction, but McKay and Ferrell have always believed in a rangy sort of comedy, high, medium and low, all smooshed together.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence)

Running time: 1:59

Opens: Wednesday