I thought I laughed hard at “Dodgeball” ’s crazy antics, but I now see it pales in comparison to the uncontrollable and oh so enjoyable bursts of laughter I experienced during “Anchorman”. In this wackiest of tale about a fictitious 1970s newsroom anchor, we have frat boy humor, a delirious animated sequence in a place called Pleasuretown, a touch of female empowerment but, above everything else, wild comedy. I started having a favourable feeling towards this film when I saw the print ads featuring enthusiastic blurbs from main character Ron Burgundy, and when I saw him thanking the nation in TV ads for helping “Anchorman” overtake “Spider-Man 2” at the box office… before his film even opened. Funny and ingenious in both cases.
After his star turn in “Elf”, Will Ferrell, who co-wrote the film with Adam McKay, solidifies his status as a reliable comedic performer on the big screen. He comes across as a hugely likable guy, and some of that quality transfers itself to his characters. It is certainly the case with this movie. The opening voice-over takes us to San Diego at some point in the ’70s, where Channel 4’s evening news anchor Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) is some kind of an institution. We meet his on-air team, a ragtag bunch prone to throwing a football while Ron delivers the day’s news. They are reporter Fantana (Paul Rudd), weatherman Brick (Steve Carrell) and sports guy Champ (David Koechner). I found Fantana’s mannerisms the funniest by far, but this is Ferrell’s showcase. His Burgundy is a quirky creation, a loudmouth whose macho side hides a heart of gold.
Things are shaken up at Channel 4 when the station boss (Fred Willard, a riot as a TV commentator in “Best in Show”) hires a women reporter, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), who has her sights on becoming the world’s first female anchor. This obviously rubs the old boys’ club the wrong way as a group, but Ron falls in love with her, with hilarious consequences. Veronica’s first assignment is to cover a cat fashion show. I will tell you, any movie with a cat fashion show cannot go too wrong in my estimation. Applegate is in fine shape, knowingly overdramatic when it calls for it but also striking a feminist chord with humor and as much determination as can be allowed in a broad comedy.
I also want to bring to your attention the cutest little animal in recent movie history (along with “Two Brothers” ’ tigers as babies), Ron’s dog Baxter. Something happens to the lovable pooch involving a perfectly cast road-raging motorcyclist that is just horrible, but not as much as it is hilarious. There are so many hits in “Anchorman” and so few misses (the bits with the rival news teams come to mind). Another pleasant surprise was that most scenes from the trailer, which I had found mildly annoying, are not included, which makes sense when considering the final product and means the funniest parts weren’t revealed there.
Brilliant use is made of a book ends-type storyline about the pregnancy of a panda at the San Diego Zoo, a location that also reveals Baxter as a master negotiator close to the end. I shall say little more, but I’ll venture to say that the subtitled exchange between Baxter and a bear is perhaps the funniest “dialogue” you’ll see at the movies this year. Capping the scene is the line “It’s instinct” delivered by Ron, which you’ll be able to appreciate in context for how sublimely misinformed it is. If you love absurd comedies with a touch of substance, you’re gonna love “Anchorman”.
I thought Will Ferrell was one of the funniest men alive all through his Saturday Night Live run and I liked the bits parts he’s played over the years, but I found Elf shockingly unfunny. Since then, I’ve been wondering if maybe Ferrell’s brand of lunacy worked only in short doses, like a SNL skit or a cameo in someone else’s flick. Not to worry, my friends, it turns out that Will can be consistently hilarious for 90 minutes, he just needs more than tired fish-out-of-water silliness and holiday schmaltz.
With “Anchorman”, Ferrell’s written himself a perfect vehicle for his shameless overacting. There was also obviously much room left for improvisation, and the atmosphere is one of barely controlled insanity. Ferrell’s hard-drinking, ass-grabbing anchorman is surrounded by an equally misogynistic and moronic news team, and Paul Rudd, David Koechner and especially Steve Carrell are almost as game and funny as Ferrell. Then there’s Christina Applegate, who’s stuck with the straight part of the ambitious journalist who threatens Channel 4’s little boys club, but there’s hardly such a thing as “straight” in this movie so she gets to do silly stuff too. The film also features the great Fred Willard, SNL’s Chris Parnell and Fred Armisen, Ferrell’s Old School co-stars Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn, and a great cameo by Jack Black.
Director and co-writer Adam McKay does a relatively good job at making this into an actual movie instead of a series of funny scenes. The film is set in the ‘70s and it’s not only reflected in the attitudes, bad hair and tacky style, McKay has actually shot his film to look like it was made in the ‘70s. There’s also some truly over the top bits involving gladiator weaponry, jazz flute and grizzly bears, but there’s no point in me running down a list of the countless things that made me laugh. Great Odin’s Raven, just go see the damn movie!