At the nadir of his career, the oblivious San Diego TV news reader and titular star of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues finds himself working at Sea World, doing play-by-play for a pair of tail-walking dolphins.

This is not where Burgundy, super-coiffed and super-cool (in his own mind), expected to be. But it happens to be where the protagonist of 2004's smart dumb comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, turns up at the outset of this long-anticipated sequel. And if, last year, you had caught the art-house melodrama Rust and Bone, in which Marion Cotillard plays a trainer at a French Sea World, and you now find yourself thinking of that daunting role, stay tuned - it's not as far a leap as you'd imagine.

Oscar-winning French actresses and a stint at Sea World aside, Anchorman 2 takes Will Ferrell's blustering Burgundy and his news-team confreres - reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), and airhead meteorologist Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) - and plops them down in New York City, freshly recruited for the launch of the first 24-hour cable news channel.

The year is 1980, when CNN launched in the real world, and GNN (for Global News Network) launched in the imaginary world of Ferrell and his director and cowriter, Adam McKay.

How will Burgundy and company adjust to life on the East Coast? To working for a boss (a very game Meagan Good) who happens to be female and black? Burgundy, a hopeless chauvinist and clueless white guy, has issues, to say the least.

On the sequel scale, where The Godfather Part II is positioned at one end and Grown Ups 2 at the other, the Anchorman follow-up can sit comfortably on the plus side of the median. Thrown into a new setting, and a new era, Burgundy and his goofball buddies are faced with dramas and dilemmas that may seem arbitrary and contrived on paper but have an urgent puissance onscreen, as Ferrell and company act their little hearts out. OK, not really.

And Burgundy has to cope with the professional and personal injury of losing his anchor spot to Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), who happens to now be his wife. The couple's marriage is thrown onto the rocks.

Anchorman 2, like its forebear, revels in skewering the more inane aspects of television news - its infotainmentization, its politicization, its tabloidization. But that's the easy stuff. Ferrell and McKay also amp up the absurdist farce, like the Marx Brothers on hallucinogens. Yes, there's another climactic rumble - a West Side Story-style clash of competing news teams - but this time it's loaded with can-you-top-this cameos. Somehow, the ghost of a Civil War general and a mythologiocal Greek beast get in on the action.

But no manner of bizarre distraction can keep Anchorman's hapless hero from his mission: "I'm going to do what God put Ron Burgundy on this earth to do," he declares. "Have salon-quality hair and read the news!"


Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

*** (Out of four stars)

Directed by Adam McKay. With Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, and Kristen Wiig. Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 59 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (crude humor, profanity, drugs, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters. EndText