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Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy   B

DreamWorks Pictures

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Adam McKay
Writer: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Fred Willard.

Review by Rob Vaux

You finally got me, Will Ferrell. I surrender. Having spent years resisting your meteoric rise to comic stardom, I felt I could weather your latest effort with a disaffected "Pshaw!" I cringed at your turn in Zoolander, shrugged off your appearance in Old School, and was apparently one of the few people on the planet who missed the point of Elf. So when I saw the previews for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, I sighed and said, "Here we go again." Spastic pratfalls, silly visual gags, a few gross-out moments to please the kids. Yawn.

But then, as the screening started and I looked up at your preposterously mustachioed face, something clicked. And the fits of giggling began.

What Anchorman holds that Ferrell's earlier efforts didn't, I can't say. Certainly, local TV news broadcasters are ripe for the satirical plucking, and setting the action around the macho insecurities of the late '70s is a smart touch. But beyond that, it feels pretty much like any other Will Ferrell project. The title character is a swaggering nincompoop: charismatic, self-absorbed, and dumber than a box of rocks. He rules the universe of San Diego telejournalism uncontested, strutting about with his News Team posse and mixing it up with the wannabes over at Channel 9. Then spunky anchorlady Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) crashes his chauvinist Shangri-la, covered in bits of the shattered glass ceiling and enrapturing Ron with her self-confident moue.

That, in essence, is all Anchorman has: ridiculous man-child finds true love and learns that sisters really can do it for themselves. Yet Ferrell and director Adam McKay turn that oyster into 90 minutes of fairly tasty stew. As a comedic figure, Burgundy is compulsively amusing: idiotic, but nuanced enough to take a variety of punches. He's a dinosaur, a relic of a bygone era who wanders through a personal Lost World secure in the belief that it will never change. But he also possesses a daffy charm that endears us to his ignorance. He's likable despite his flaws, allowing us to laugh at him without hating. McKay finds plenty of ways to deflate his pomposity, aided by Applegate's game straight (wo)man and a host of supporting goofballs (among whom Steve Carell claims dominance as the station's terminally out-to-lunch weatherman).

The gags are largely physical, but display modest wit, and McKay wisely lays off the toilet humor. He's also smart enough to tone down the digs at the period. Mocking '70s fashions is like shooting fish in a barrel; Anchorman never overdoes it, but rather tells it like it is (or was) and lets the results speak for themselves. The film takes occasional turns into the surreal (Burgundy summons his minions with a conch at one point), but otherwise plays its premise straight. And it all works quite well, its silly fun unfettered by repetition or strain.

Most importantly, however, Anchorman succeeds because of Ferrell. He shoulders the lion's share of responsibility (Burgundy is on-screen in almost every shot), and produces reams of guffaws just through the timbre of his voice or a cockeyed stare. Yet he also brings real character to the role; we're not just laughing at an actor making faces. In one scene, he calls the station on the verge of emotional collapse, having just seen his beloved dog punted off a bridge by Jack Black (don't ask). The bit is essentially an extended take of him in a phone booth, sobbing uncontrollably. But because he's invested with a sense of personality, it's hysterical. The film works because of moments like that, its star holding us with his presence yet never wearing it out. Anchorman gives him plenty to work with and keeps us in stitches in the process. Those attuned to Ferrell's humor have nothing to worry about here... and at least one hard-line skeptic had a lot of fun being proven wrong.

Review published 07.09.2004.

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