Movie Review: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
By Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
In "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," writer-star Will Ferrell and co-writer-director Adam McKay make fun of three subjects ripe for the comic slaughter: TV newscasting, male chauvinism and '70s fashions and hairstyles.
And they pick them off with a sure-shot glee lacking in their main character: Emmy-winning San Diego news anchor and local Casanova Ron Burgundy.
Ron, one of Ferrell's more amusing movie creations, is a charismatic but fairly empty-headed news guy, who, in about 1973, sits on top of the San Diego ratings heap, along with his award-winning but even slower-witted Channel 4 "news team" - a goofball band of brothers that includes a cowboy-hatted, closeted gay sportscaster, Champ Kind (David Koechner); a mentally challenged weatherman with an IQ of 48, Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), and a field reporter, Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), another would-be Casanova who's even more thick-headed than Ron. As the four strut down the streets of San Diego, in a replica of their ad logo, it's obvious they envision themselves as the local telejournalistic Wild Bunch, San Diego's ruling news roosters.
Into their adolescent paradise - thanks to their wicked-papa station manager Ed Harken (Fred Willard) - comes an outsider who becomes both their Eve and their Snake: Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), a stunning, dazzlingly competent newswoman whose fondest ambition, like Ron's, is a network news anchor job. Veronica has been hired by Harken as a "diversity" move - one of many words and concepts foreign to the Channel 4 quartet - and though Harken intends to keep her on the cat-fashion show beat, she keeps pushing the envelope.
Soon, Ron and Veronica are butting heads in the newsroom. And though Ron's oily charm and surprising skill on the jazz flute puts them into the bedroom together as well, the bloody showdown is inevitable.
Ferrell has made some pretty crummy movies. You can't sink much lower than the "Wild and Crazy Guys" wannabe farce "A Night at the Roxbury," and his campus sex hit "Old School" wasn't much better. But "Anchorman" works better because it has a sense of its subject (Bill Kurtis does the narration) and because it exploits Ferrell's main comic talent: impersonating macho guys with phony charisma and a loose screw. Ferrell shares one quality with Peter Sellers: He knows how to impersonate sexual phonies who get trapped in their own fantasies - like Ron, a narcissistic oaf whose fame is his voice and wardrobe.
That's what makes him believable as a '70s TV news anchor. "Anchorman" is no "Broadcast News," but it doesn't really try to be. It's a cute, silly, likable movie without much weight or intensity, but it's also pretty funny.
And it's a more convincing picture of newscasting than the unintentionally silly, politically correct drama "Up Close and Personal," which put Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford in a story inspired by the Jessica Savitch tragedy. "Anchorman," like "Personal," is basically politically correct, but it gets its laughs from the politically incorrect behavior of its macho newsguys. Ferrell and McKay know that a lot of TV news then and now is would-be show biz, so they know where the laughs are. And their cast knows how to mine or improvise them - especially Ferrell, Willard and Carell (as the pricelessly dim Brick).
One of the main jokes of the movie, in fact, is that though the on-camera news characters are dopey - Ron, for example, always reads anything on his TelePrompTer - they're not notably less silly than the talent we might have seen back in the '70s, or right now. All the characters here, in fact, could probably get hired anywhere, and so could the four rival cameo news anchors who meet Ron for a news-rumble: embittered also-ran Vince Vaughn, luckless Luke Wilson, pipe-smoking PBS man Tim Robbins and Hispanic news firebrand Ben Stiller.
That rumble is one of many "Elf-like" fancy-flights in the movie - which also includes an animated orgasm fantasy and pet dog Baxter's ability to communicate with bears. But although the movie offers lower-grade satire - McKay is an ex-SNL head writer - it's satire nonetheless. The movie may lack a lot of things, but it doesn't lack comic timing - or, in its own way, a nose for the news.
"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"
Directed by Adam McKay; written by Will Ferrell, McKay; photographed by Thomas Ackerman; edited by Brent White; production designed by Clayton R. Hartley; music by Alex Wurman; produced by Judd Apatow. A DreamWorks Pictures release of an Apatow production; opens Friday, July 9. Running time: 1:35. MPAA rating: PG-13 (sexual humor, language and comic violence).
Ron Burgundy - Will Ferrell
Veronica Corningstone - Christina Applegate
Brian Fantana - Paul Rudd
Brick Tamland - Steve Carell
Champ Kind - David Koechner
Ed Harken - Fred Willard
Opposing Anchors - Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, Bill Lawson
Narrator - Bill Kurtis