Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

The best comedies tend to happen when an inspired comedian takes pen to paper and follows an obsession. Steve Martin did it with L.A. Story, Dan Aykroyd with Ghostbusters, and Mike Myers with Austin Powers. These films feel as if they needed to happen — as though they’d been nagging their creators for years, from the moment Aykroyd first got interested in the paranormal or Myers saw his first Carnaby Street movie. Will Farrell must have fond memories of the blowhard news anchormen he saw in his childhood, because he and director Adam McKay have crafted an affectionate backhanded tribute to deluded ’70s machismo in Anchorman — a movie generally without the delirious comic heights of the aforementioned classics, but still a detailed and bizarrely specific portrait.

Ron Burgundy (Ferrell), an awesomely self-satisfied San Diego anchor, seems to have been born just at the right time to enjoy what’s left of white male privilege in the ’70s (his coif and mustache certainly wouldn’t fly in any other decade). He lives the life of a swinger and a rock star, lovingly tended by his news team (ladies’ man Paul Rudd, crude hee-hawing David Koechner, and serenely oblivious Steve Carell). Yet this alpha male is also a lonely man, with only his beloved dog Baxter warming the other side of his bed. Like Austin Powers, Ron talks the ladykiller talk far better than he walks the walk. His life is disrupted, for better and worse, when the ambitious Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) arrives at Ron’s news station with an eye on the co-anchor position. Ron has other positions in mind.

Some of Anchorman is the kind of giddy, nonsensical stuff that can only emerge from a genuinely deranged comic brain. The Daily Show‘s Steve Carell, who scored the biggest laughs in Bruce Almighty, scores again here with each cheerfully surreal statement. There’s a street rumble between several competing news teams that seems to be there just to show off a bunch of cameos, some of which haven’t been spoiled in the trailer — the only one conspicuously missing here is Owen Wilson. And there’s another first-rate cameo in a scene wherein poor Baxter is endangered. I wished for a bit more comic lunacy, though. When it’s established that Ron will read anything that appears on his TelePrompTer, the movie doesn’t do nearly enough with that premise — Mike Myers would’ve taken that and run giggling with it.

Still, it’s an affable enough comedy (though not quite the side-splitter some Internet critics are hyping it as), with a well-judged soundtrack of ’70s chestnuts — the news team’s impromptu rendition of “Afternoon Delight” is the best use of that inanely libidinous ditty I’ve seen since The Rules of Attraction. Will Farrell steps firmly into the so-retro-they’re-stylin’ shoes of Ron Burgundy, selling the character with a kind of manic throwback integrity. Ron doesn’t know how foolish he is, and that’s the joke, but Ferrell also gives him an added consciousness — somehow, Ron senses, there must be more to life than pool parties and high ratings. “This is the same party we’ve had for the last ten years! Which is in no way depressing!” laughs Ron over a Scotch. In some corner of his mind, Ron is ready for his own era to end; he’s ready for the Veronica Corningstones to come in and share the party. So is Veronica, played by Christina Applegate with the same hey-I-didn’t-peak-in-the-’90s avidity she showed in The Sweetest Thing. Ferrell, in handing her a major role in what’s sure to be a summer hit, proves a keen judge of undertapped talent.

There’s no real way to tell if this is true¹ or just the sportive cast and crew putting us on, but one of the more interesting factoids bandied about in the Anchorman press junkets is that so much material was filmed that they’ve got enough footage for an entire second movie just from the outtakes. (This would explain why so much of what’s in the trailer isn’t in the movie.) The plan, they say, is to put out a 2-disc DVD with this “second movie,” Wake Up, Ron Burgundy, included as an extra. Maybe Owen Wilson will show up there.

¹Yeah, it was true.

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