There is a scene near the beginning of the recent reboot of 21 Jump Street in which the police hierarchy wryly notes that the Jump Street program is being resurrected because the bosses are getting tired of coming up with new ideas. It comes off as a modest and self-deprecating dig. There is a very similar joke in Anchorman 2, about whether news is for entertainment, and concluding that the news should only tell “stories that need to be told”. This instance of the same idea feels less like modesty, and more like its opposite, an arrogant nod to the lack of effort and innovation detectable in almost every frame of this sequel.
The plot of Anchorman 2 is simple, following roughly the same cast of characters into the eighties after their jaunts in the seventies. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), still married to Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) and now with a young son, is abruptly fired from their co-anchorship at the film’s outset. He is approached by an agent to join the first ever 24-hour news service, and resolves to do so. First however, he must go through a tired montage to get the gang back together, and recruit his old news team, Brick (Steve Carrell), Champ (David Koechner) and Brian (Paul Rudd). This makes up roughly the first third of the film, and is remarkable for its lack of quality humour. For a packed audience days after release to be so quiet is abnormal for a mainstream comedy, and the number of people leaving during the film was also extraordinary.
The film suffers from tired attempts to reuse jokes and motifs from the original Anchorman. The idea that Ron cannot deal with a female co-worker is directly replaced here with a struggle to accept a black superior, Brian Fantana’s collection of colognes and musk is now replaced with a condom collection, and the reminder that Ron will read anything that’s put on the teleprompter is swiftly borne, as he shouts a story written in capitals – never mind the fact that every subsequent and prior shot of a teleprompter has the stories capitalised.
More than this, though, it suffers from bizarre shoddiness in its production. Many of the actors look far older than they are supposed to be, the young man playing the Burgundy child is an abominable actor whose eyes flit to his off-screen mother every other second, and too many jokes fall the wrong side of the line of good taste. In times of need, the creators throw Steve Carrell’s Brick front and centre, with a blossoming romance with similarly-minded Kristen Wiig providing plenty of excuses for loud, tiresome shouting in the place of actual jokes. Much of the budget was probably blown in the newer version of the newscaster fight which is such a highlight of the first film. It is now an undeniably amusing cameo-off, with the breadth of comic talent on show very impressive.
It doesn’t rescue the picture as a whole, though, and it never could have done. Anchorman 2 is a disappointment in every way, and that joke about stories needing to be told is a disquieting hint that those involved with its production know it very well.