Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
Entering the marketplace as the third broad comedy in less than a
month, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" places smack dab in
the middle, behind the delightfully goofy "Dodgeball: A True Underdog's
Story" but ahead of the dumb, disposable "White Chicks." As a satire
of news broadcasts, the film has its bitey moments of knowing lunacy,
but "Dodgeball" was largely more creative and successful in its sports
satirizing. The latter's hit-to-miss laugh ratio was also notably
higher. For all of the comedy that works spectacularly well in "Anchorman,"
there are three times as many jokes that either try too hard, or simply
fall to the ground with a resounding thud.
Set in the 1970s—a time when the public trusted its newspeople and
believed every word they said—Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), lead anchor
at San Diego's KVWN Channel 4 Evening News, is at the top of the local
ratings. A womanizing male chauvinist in a profession filled with
other male chauvinists, Ron Burgundy and his co-workers/co-horts,
Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner), and Brick
Tamland (Steve Carell), feel threatened when the ever-ambitious Veronica
Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is hired to be the first-ever on-the-scene
female news reporter. Ron is instantly smitten with Veronica, who
in return finds herself uncontrollably attracted to Ron, but their
blooming romance is put into jeopardy when Veronica is promoted to
be Ron's co-anchor. It isn't long before Ron realizes Veronica has
true talent in the field, whereas he has been coasting along with
little to offer but absent-minded charm.
Directed by Adam McKay (making his feature debut after cutting his
teeth on TV's "Saturday Night Live"), "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron
Burgundy" is an ambitious comedy of hits and misses that has trouble
finding its groove. The opening 15 minutes are almost completely lacking
in laughs (there are jokes and puns, to be sure, but they are consistently
unfunny), and it isn't until the one-hour mark that the film settles
into a relatively comfortable pattern of solid material. Much of the
humor is intentionally cornball or of the slapstick variety—a fight
to the death between the different station's feuding anchors, played
in cameos by Luke Wilson (2003's "Alex and Emma"), Ben Stiller (2004's
"Starsky & Hutch"), Tim Robbins (2003's "Mystic River"), and in a
slight ly larger role as smarmy Wes Mantooth, Vince Vaughn (2004's
"Dodgeball: A True Underdog's Story"), is so off-the-wall as to almost
seem like a fantasy sequence—and it is only on sporadic occasions that it takes off.
When the film does hits the bull's-eye, however, the results are uproarious.
The section in which Ron and Veronica go to any length possible to
sabotage each other's job inspires a series of genuine guffaws, particularly
one scene in which Veronica is introduced on the air in an outrageously
derogatory fashion. An on-going joke concerning Ron's confusion over
the saying, "When in Rome," and a glimpse at what news anchors might
be saying to each other at the end of the program when the sound goes
down and the credits roll, are also wittier and funnier than the movie's
norm. And the inspired casting of illustrious "American Justice" host
Bill Kurtis as the narrator is downright genius, recalling the appearance
of "Unsolved Mysteries" host Robert Stack in 1998's "BASEketball."
For some of its running time, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"
is able to slide by solely on the big laughs that are garnered. Not
so fortunately, the film is bogged down too often in a state of distinct
listlessness. While not pivotal to, say, a drama, a comedy's first,
middle, and last acts should always be readily apparent to the audience.
This is not the case with "Anchorman," which hops from one set-piece
to the next without firmly establishing its central plot. Is the movie
about Ron Burgundy's journey to becoming a better anchor and a better
man? Is it about the cutthroat environment of television news stations,
and Ron's attempts to thwart Veronica's rise to the top? Is it a romance
between Ron and Veronica? Is it about Ron's fight to retain the top
spot amongst the other channel's news programs? The film ends up being
all of the above, but not enough time is spent with any of these subplots
to make the impact they intend.
One thing is for sure: Will Ferrell (2003's "Elf") is a real movie
star, a brilliantly timed comic actor who manages to make Ron Burgundy,
a decided scumbag, irresistible. Ron may not have much talent, but
Ferrell's likable performance makes it easy to see why this bumbling
news anchor captures so many viewers' hearts. Christina Applegate
(2002's "The Sweetest Thing") makes Veronica Corningstone a winning
presence and much more than a passive love interest, holding her own
against Ferrell in some of the picture's funniest moments. While game
enough players, Paul Rudd (2003's "The Shape of Things"), Steve Carell
(2003's "Bruce Almighty"), and David Koechner (2003's "My Boss's Daughter")
fail to make their slimy roles congenial in the same way Ferrell is
able to do with Ron. As station boss Ed Harken, the underrated Fred
Willard (2003's "American Wedding") struggles with little to do.
"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" is a marginal entertainment
with some greatly funny scenes definitely worth seeing, but is the
rest of the movie worth wading through to get to them? Probably not.
The screenplay, credited to Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay,
is a scattershot affair that could have benefited from another rewrite
or two, tightening and centering its murky premise. And whatever involvement
the viewer has with the characters is due to the fine actors playing
them; even Ron Burgundy could be considered a one-dimensional creation.
"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" has some worthwhile, realistic
statements to make about the changing ways within the male-heavy 1970s
work environment, but the film itself doesn't provide enough hard-hitting
satirical coverage to make the rest of it palatable.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman