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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Overcast
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Anchorman 2 is a smarter jab at TV news than its predecessor
Wits and nitwits
Will Ferrell and company amp up the ridiculousness.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is like a mash-up of movies released in 2013. It's got self-delusion in '70s New York, just like American Hustle. It's got a shark fight that rivals the one in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with poor Kristen Wiig playing nearly the same part she plays in that film. It's also got a strong black character fighting for her place in the world, similar to 12 Years a Slave.

If Anchorman 2 had come along even six months later, I'd suspect intentional parody. But since this film hit theaters around the same time as most of the others, it might be more a case of dumb luck for a dumb comedy.

Except this film isn't dumb like the first Anchorman was. So much that I wondered if I'd changed in some fundamental way in the nine years since the first flick was released. So I rewatched Anchorman. It turns out it's not me: While Anchorman 2 had me laughing my butt off, Anchorman had nothing to say beyond "Aren't '70s clothes and misogyny hilarious?"

The sequel doesn't have a ton of meaty subject matter, but it's possible that moviegoers will realize something important about the circus-like nature of TV news. We're meant to enjoy the cluelessness of Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his team of local-news idiots: reporter and ladies' man Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), creepy sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner) and slow-and-weird weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). We're supposed to find hilarity in the gossip, sensationalism and shouting matches that pass for modern journalism. Ron and company engage in these things because they need to win a bet against handsome, suave lead anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) at the new, 24-hour news channel they've been hired to launch in the early '80s.

But Ferrell and director Adam McKay aren't just aiming for satire. The script they cowrote sometimes reminds me of Monty Python; it's a conscious effort to amp up the ridiculousness. Carell's character in particular is more off-kilter than he was before. His scene with a green screen made me scream with laughter. And Wiig is hilarious as the secretary he pines for but cannot pursue.

The Legend Continues takes too long to get going, and it's crudely edited in places. Big laughs are interrupted by unfunny, dragged-out bits. But when this movie works, it's so deliciously bizarre that you might not hate Ron for ruining the news forever.

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