Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate, "The Sweetest Thing") arrives in San Diego dreaming of becoming an anchorperson, but it is the 1970s and that trail has not yet been blazed. Popular Ron Burgandy (Will Ferrell, "Elf") and his news team are quick to remind station manager Ed Harken (Fred Willard, "A Mighty Wind") that there is a reason it's called "AnchorMAN."
Ferrell's been on a roll with his movie-making support in last year's "Old School" followed by the sweetly hilarious starring turn in "Elf," but this long-in-the-works project represents two steps backwards. Written with SNL alumnus Adam McKay, who makes his directorial debut here, Ferrell's latest is juvenile comedy of the "I know you are, but what am I" ilk without the ironically twisted delivery of PeeWee Herman's man-child.
When Ferrell's opening credit roll news desk shenanigans fail to elicit many laughs, things begin to look worrisome. The establishment of Burgandy's team and lifestyle offers initial promise. Brick (Steve Carell, great in the same job for "Bruce Almighty") is an aptly named weatherman while Champ (David Koechner, "A Guy Thing") is the sports reporter with an overly strong bond for his anchor. Best is Paul Rudd (recently seen as Phoebe's husband in TV's "Friends") as Brian Fantana, a Geraldo Riviera-like field reporter with an arsenal of female attracting colognes. These guys' lives are one giant party - heck, Ron smokes up a storm and downs Scotch right before air time! Veronica's arrival sets hormones in motion and she makes a genuine connection with Ron eventually, but when she usurps his throne standing in one evening, an out and out war begins.
"Anchorman" is essentially ninety minutes of name-calling and surprise cameos masquerading as comedy. The cleverest bit involves Ron's constant insistence that he cannot speak Spanish in a city a stone's throw from the Mexican border. A couple of other bits involving jazz flute and the thirst-quenching properties of milk produce mild chuckles. Calling in comic heavyweights to kick a dog off a bridge or engage in a street brawl does not make those scenes funny, however. No satiric content is drawn from the news stories, although an animal theme is neatly threaded throughout.
McKay' first time at bat is mediocre. The film is choppily paced and executed. One fantasy sequence inserted in lieu of a sex scene is a surprising idea that is well handled. Costume and makeup are faithful to the era without being overly exaggerated. Musical choices are so-so except for a humorous a cappella rendition of "Afternoon Delight" by Ferrell, Rudd, Carell and Koechner.
"Anchorman" is proof positive that one huge hit should not automatically green-light a star's pet project. Ferrell is a funny guy, but he's merely treading water here. If it's comedy at a news desk you're looking for, rent last year's "Bruce Almighty" instead.
It’s San Diego in 1970’s and the local television news desk is a playground for men only and Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is the kingpin at the number one station, KVWN. He has been the lead anchor on the local news front and is more than content with his unchallenged supremacy. That is, until Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), a talented but decidedly female journalist, arrives on the scene and dares to contest Ron for his top spot at the top station in “Anchorman.”
I have to admit that I have been gleefully anticipating “Anchorman” for months. From the very first TV spots and theatrical trailers it looked like another funny vehicle that would capitalize on Farrell’s success in “Old School” and “Elf.” While “Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy” isn’t the hit-it-out-of-the-park homerun I was hoping for, it has enough laughs and goofy charm to get it on base.
“Anchorman” starts off where it should have ended – with a series of on screen outtakes, over the opening credits of Ron as he fortifies himself with a tumbler of scotch and a smoke before the news cameras roll. (Why the filmmakers decided to forgo the opportunity to keep the viewers in their seats and run this sequence over the closing credits, I can’t figure.) As the movie begins we are introduced to the KVWN news team – Ron Burgundy is the news anchor; Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) is the on-the-spot lifestyle reporter; Champ Kind (David Koechner) is the station’s goofy, loud, cowboy-hat-wearing sportscaster; Brick Tamland (Steve Corell) is the none-too-bright weather guy; and, Ed Harkin (Fred Willard) is the station manager charged with trying to control his pompous (they ARE #1 in San Diego) and sexist team.
But, the parent network wants “diversity” in the new lineup and they have transferred up-and-comer Veronica to KVWN, ostensibly as “fluff” reporter covering cat fashion shows and being eye candy. She is not going to be kept back, though, and has eyes on the anchorman’s (or will that be anchorwoman’s?) seat. Ron Burgundy’s eye, however, is on Corningstone’s shapely body and he willingly accepts her into the station’s fold – as long as she keeps her place.
An unfortunate incident involving the Coronado Bridge, a burrito, a biker (Jack Black) and Ron’s talking dog, Baxter, sends the anchorman into the throws of depression and grief and, for the first time ever, he misses a broadcast of KVWN 6:00 News. Veronica, of course, is chomping at the bit for the chance and dives right in, doing an exemplary job as principle anchor. A rising star is born, breaking new ground, while Ron sinks into the throes of depression. Corningstone makes television history when she replaces Burgundy in the top spot at KVWN TV and becomes America’s first femme lead anchor. Will Ron get back his old spark? Will he get his precious job back? Can he cope with a chick taking his job? Tune in to the news at 6:00 to find out.
I have been a fan of Will Ferrell ever since I saw him play both high school stud Sky Corrigan and Jesus (yes, that Jesus) in Molly Shannon’s “Superstar.” He solidified his appeal with his very different (and very funny) roles in “Old School,” “ Elf” and “Starsky & Hutch.” In “Anchorman,” he still gets the goofy lines and, early in the film, actually gives some individual character to his Ron Burgundy. Unfortunately, the character and any satire on the news business in the 70’s, as it transitions into a feminist world, are lost to sophomoric, dumb humor.
“Anchorman” is more a case of missed potentials than it is just a miss. There is some original spark as the screenplay (by Ferrell and frosh helmer Adam McKay (former head writer for SNL)) delves into the chauvinist world of news TV as the first femme pioneers break into the field 30 years ago. But, the copious amounts of slapstick take over for the satire and this are pretty much just goofy fun until the end. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there are laughs throughout, but the missed opportunity keeps the film from resonating like “Elf” or allowing Ferrell the focused perf in “Old School.”
The supporting cast does not get beyond the two-dimensional. Christina Applegate gives a game try in her performance as the groundbreaking, ambitious Veronica. She is the most “normal” of the cast and plays the straight man to her silly costars effectively. The script keeps her from getting to the 3D level with her character but the actress gives it a good go. Paul Rudd is subtly funny as the sleazy Geraldo Rivera clone with his carefully coifed hair and full mustache. David Koechner, as sports anchor Champ, is faintly annoying with his loutish behavior. Steve Corell is suitably clueless (early in the film it is announced that in later years Brick proves to have an IQ of 48) as the ditzy weatherman. Fred Willard gets his usual share of laughs as the station manager and the father of a problem teen – his one-sided phone calls about his son’s antics are priceless Willardisms.
As one expects in an Old Boy flick like “Anchorman,” there are a host of cameo performances, mostly uncredited. Vince Vaughn puts his usual arrogant shtick into his Wes Mantooth, Channel 9 anchorman and always second fiddle to Ron. Other friends of Will show up, too, as the anchors for the other San Diego stations: Luke Wilson plays the town’s last place Channel 2 anchor – a truly luckless man; an unexpected Tim Robbins, in his white man afro, is the head of the local PBS news team; and, Ben Stiller fronts for the city’s only Spanish news crew. Funny guys, all, but their involvement is incidental and not too effective, overall. Baxter the talking dog doesn’t get nearly enough airtime but still saves the day.
First time director Adam McKay gives a hit-or-miss turn his first time out of the gate. The gags that he and Ferrell wrote must have looked hysterical on paper but, in his inexperience hands, many of the jokes fall flat. A more experienced helmer may have made the film flow a lot more smoothly and take advantage of the cast. As such, there is an episodic quality to “Anchorman” that makes it feel more like an extended Saturday Night Live skit than a feature length screwball comedy.
Techs create a quasi-70’s world where polyester commands the airways, stylishly long hair and mustache abound and sexism is still an in thing.
There is enough goofy humor to satisfy the guy in me but “Anchorman” has too many problems to propel it to the heights of Ferrell’s recent vehicles. It should have taken Ron Burgundy’s signature saying at the end of his newscasts and “Stay classy!” Unfortunately, it doesn’t. I give it a B-.
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