There was a time when the local TV anchorman was not just a celebrity but a trusted celebrity. In the age before cell phones, the internet, and mass communications, the guy who read the news every night was a viewer’s connection to the outside world. That’s not really true anymore, but the new comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy remembers the time fondly.
Will Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, the anchor for a popular San Diego TV station in the 1970’s. Burgundy’s status has sent him on something of an ego trip; he’s obsessed with his own looks, particularly the hair. Burgundy spends time both on air and off with his news team: Texan sports reporter Champ Kind (David Koechner); suave field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd); and dimwitted weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell). When they aren’t broadcasting, the group parties heavily and makes every effort to impress the ladies.
The male bonding rituals are thrown into disarray with the arrival of Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). Burgundy initially mistakes her for just another pretty face at a station party, but she turns out to be a wildly ambitious reporter who shares a similar dream to one day be a network anchor. They begin a flirtation, which turns into a relationship, which then evolves into a rivalry. Burgundy is driven over the edge when he misses a newscast and Veronica goes on in his place. Suddenly, the woman he loves is in a position to take away the one thing he loves even more: his job.
Anchorman admittedly has a pretty thin plot. It doesn’t seem like telling a story really interested anyone involved in the making of this film. Instead, the plot is merely an excuse for the actors to make fun of 1970’s local newscasts and to engage in all kinds of outrageous sexual and scatological humor.
And you know what? On that level, it actually works.
For whatever else it may lack, Anchorman made me laugh consistently with its non-stop loopiness. By now, TV news is not exactly a fresh topic for spoofing, although you wouldn’t know it from watching this movie. Ferrell and director/co-writer Adam McKay infuse the film with a delightfully strange sense of humor that will most likely appeal to the same audience that has so lovingly embraced Dodgeball. Here’s one example: Ron Burgundy’s little secret is that he’ll read whatever is written on the teleprompter, without ever giving it a thought. This leads to a funny scene in which someone accidentally puts a question mark on the end of the sentence “I’m Ron Burgundy,” leading the hapless anchor to identify himself quizzically.
The offbeat humor never stops. In one scene, Burgundy tries to impress Veronica by revealing a talent for playing “jazz flute” in a nightclub. Later on, he has a breakdown in a phone booth, or – as he puts it – a “glass case of emotion.” It wouldn’t be proper for me to tell you about the scene in which he first asks Veronica for a date, but I laughed out loud at the sheer perversity of it. Rather than just taking cheap shots at the fashions or broadcasting trends of the 1970’s, Anchorman finds an original comic tone and adapts it to the setting. There’s an anything-can-happen quality to the humor that kept me watching. The jokes weren’t obvious and I couldn’t see them coming.
The cast is certainly talented enough to pull the zaniness off. I especially liked Steve Carrell (who, also playing a TV news personality, stole Bruce Almighty right out from under Jim Carrey). Brick Tamland is not a bright guy, but the things he says aren’t your typical “dumb guy” movie clichés. There’s a darker quality to his naïve remarks that makes them funny in a somewhat unsettling way. My favorite actually appears in the outtakes that run alongside the end credits: “I pooped a hammer!” Paul Rudd and David Koechner also give their characters distinctly unusual personalities that add comedic energy to the picture.
(Small spoiler alert!) When I reviewed Dodgeball a few weeks ago, I noted that there’s a core group of actors – Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and the Wilson brothers (Owen and Luke) – who keep popping up in each others’ movies. Anchorman brings them all together (except for Owen Wilson) for one wild scene in which they play anchors for different stations whose rivalry grows violent. How can you not smile seeing these guys together in whatever they do?
Will Ferrell always seemed to me like one of the least likely “Saturday Night Live” stars to make it big. Oh, he’s funny all right – I just thought of him more as the glue that held the show together than as a breakout star. I’m glad I was wrong because Ferrell makes me laugh about as much as anybody. He has a talent in movies for creating absurdly likable characters that we can’t stop watching. Ron Burgundy is, on the surface, your typical narcissist. However, Farrell plays him mostly as an outright nut job with a heart and a lot of strange bon mots. Anchorman is not likely to be as big a hit as Farrell’s last movie, Elf, but I think it has the potential, once it hits home video, to achieve Austin Powers-like status as a highly quotable movie. Start memorizing the lines now.
( out of four)
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is rated PG-13 for sexual humor, language and comic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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