To take “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” seriously is to accept that on any given Sunday the rival crews from all the local news networks fight to the death in a warehouse backlot. To admit it’s just plain funny is appreciating Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy pouting to no end while trapped “in a glass case of emotion!”
The movie takes place in San Diego circa 1970 when women’s rights stopped at the right to vote. Ron is the top rated news anchor and a local hero adored by all San Diegoans (the term to describe San Diego natives is debated in the film) who are reminded every night to stay classy.
Burgundy is good at heart, even though he swigs Scotch moments before going on live, smokes cigarettes and makes derogatory comments to his female co-workers from his anchor chair. But never does Burgundy attempt to be offensive. He’s just too absorbed in himself to recognize reality for what it is, and doesn’t realize the potential of the people around him.
The major conflict of the film arises when Ed Harken (Fred Willard), the station’s news director, is forced to add diversity to the newsroom in these “changing times” by hiring a woman to be Burgundy's co-anchor. Her name is Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) and has a dream of going national, but must first tackle the obstacle of being the first female anchor for a local news network.
Unlike Burgundy, Corningstone is a charming, competent newswoman who understands the business and knows her first priority is not convincing her co-workers that she’s a good news anchor -- as she proves to be sharper than Burgundy -- but to earn the acceptance from her chauvinistic counterparts.
And as expected, Burgundy’s team is none too pleased with their female addition. Introduced in slow motion in a style not too far off from today’s silly CNN/FOX NEWS ads, Burgundy’s team is rough ragtag crew made of sideburns and ugly brown suits. The sportscaster is Champ (David Koechner), whose coined “wham!” phrase follows every exhilarating play. The weather forecaster is Brick (Steve Carell), a self-described “retard” because of his sub-50 IQ, and we believe it. And finally Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), the serious investigative on-the-scene reporter. They all despise Veronica; professionally that is, because each one eventually tries in some pathetic way to ask her out.
That Ron is able to seduce Veronica by playing his jazz-flute at a dinner/night-club shows how ridiculous the film gets, but to not adore the conversations between Ron and his dog and between the dog and a bear is to not have the slightest sense of humor.
At times Ferrell is able to take his character over the top enough to make “Ron Burgundy” as funny as this summer’s top comedy, “Dodgeball,” but too often Ferrell’s film doesn’t work and doesn’t get the audience reaction it tries so hard to measure. But then perhaps the biggest laugh comes after we’ve expected it. The set-up is that Burgundy reads anything on his telepromter, anything. We first realize this when he signs off one evening after picking up a mistaken question mark and reads: “This is...Ron Burgundy?” It’s only a matter of time before this revelation returns at some later point in the film and when it does come the audience reacts well to the payoff.
Ferrell co-wrote the script with former "Saturday Night Live" writer Adam McKay, who is also the director of this thumbs-up film in a time when “SNL” films no longer just plain suck. Sure, there are plenty of misses; such as the showdown between Burgundy’s crew and the teams from other networks, led by cameo characters played by people I will not reveal, but will at least say you’ve probably seen most of these guys from last week’s comedy, or the comedy the week before or the comedy the week before that. But even though it’s a recycled bunch, a limited screen presence keeps such performances from becoming mundane.
“Anchorman” is the film to see if you’ve already seen “Dodgeball” and are enjoying the streak of pleasant comedies as much as I am. Hopefully the “SNL” alumni will continue to be successful and others who haven’t been so fortunate (Chris Kattan, Horatio Sanz, Tim Meadows etc.,) will find their way. But for now it’s a good summer to laugh.
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