“Rule number 1: No touching of the hair or face… AND THAT’S IT!”
People have been telling me for almost a decade that Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy needs a second viewing to fully appreciate its genius. I’m happy to say they were correct. I watched it again last night and increased its score a whole point. That’s right, I still don’t get what you all do when it comes to writer/director Adam McKay and writer/star Will Ferrell’s first foray onto the big screen after collaborating on “Saturday Night Live”. It’s a random mishmash of disparate sketches strung together by a consistent character pool. There’s so little story that when test audiences showed displeasure with its originally written bank robbers’ subplot, they reshot enough footage to later release an entire alternate direct-to-video “companion” entitled Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie.
I’ll be the first to admit my short-term memory is so bad I need to bring a notebook to movies just to write down the quote I place at the top of each review. Obviously very weak at the whole office cooler one-liner game as a result, I generally find myself standing and laughing because the jokes are fairly familiar yet completely untethered to anything in my consciousness. I’m therefore far from the target audience here and honestly not too broken up. I’ve come around to the creative duo by loving Step Brothers and enjoying the first half of The Other Guys, but it appears I’ll always be on the outside looking in when it comes to San Diego’s Action News Team from some fictional point in the 70s. I get it; I just don’t find it funny.
McKay and Ferrell have created caricatures of a chauvinistic period in America’s entertainment history and let them run wild. KVWN anchorman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) is vain, egotistical, and immature, pretending that an ability to precisely read the news in a deep voice from a teleprompter is talent while ensuring his moustache and hair distract the housewives at home from anything leaving his mouth. Field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) is a pretty boy dullard who thinks love is a two-hour make-out session in a bathroom with a random woman; sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner) is your closeted-gay cowboy trying way too hard to mask the truth with loud sexist rants and faux machismo; and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) is the epitome of what so many believe meteorologists to be: mentally disabled smilers playing with a colorful map.
They’re for all intents and purposes children, each with his fair share of temper tantrums and stupidity to prove none think beyond immediate pleasure. Champ and Brian throw a football over Ron’s head on set while the camera’s rolling; the quartet have a standing monthly engagement for a pancake breakfast; and they constantly go to the same pool party for craziness and sex because San Diego knows them and loves them and has never comprehended the fact something out there may be better. But that all changes with Veronica Corningstone’s (Christina Applegate) arrival in order to add diversity. She begins her stint as a love interest for Ron, admits her aspiration to be a network anchor equals his, and eventually earns her place in the spotlight as Burgundy takes a hubristic fall to the depths of mediocrity.
And that’s the film—slogging through a mess of immature jokes to see whether Ron and the gang will accept a woman into their boy’s club or bury her in the sand like little grade-schoolers in the sandbox afraid of cooties. Equating these 70s-era pigs as children isn’t wholly original and the humor is below lowbrow, so what’s the big deal? Call me pretentious—I probably am when it comes to this sort of humor—but I found myself laughing at it and not with it for the duration with the exception of each hilarious standoff against Vince Vaughn’s Wes Mantooth and the Nightly News Crew. Plugging him, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Tim Robbins into the mix for some back alley brawling is the only inspired choice Ferrell and McKay make.
That’s overly harsh. I did enjoy a few other aspects of the overlong sketch including Emmy-nominated journalist Bill Kurtis serving as narrator, Baxter the dog’s elocution, and Chris Parnell’s tearful dismissal of Ron as his hero. Kathryn Hahn bolsters the sexism commentary at the film’s backbone; Carell allows Brick to live down to his name as pure cardboard glee; and Rudd’s cluelessness at times is hysterical. And like Talladega Nights’ best gag (the abrupt Applebee’s commercial), Anchorman has its own out-of-left field intrusion of previously recorded footage during the end credits outtakes. On the flipside, however, Fred Willard’s frayed producer feels stiff throughout as if McKay didn’t provide him the atmosphere of improvisation he so obviously excels at with Christopher Guest while cameos from Seth Rogen, Danny Trejo, and Fred Armisen all fall flat.
Thankfully, Ferrell and Applegate show some sparks of vitriol once romance turns to a no-holds-barred war on reputation because their jockeying for position in the newsroom ends up being the closest thing we have to a plot. The over-the-top giddiness of their courtship gets old fast after an unfunny animated sequence with unicorns, so the cutthroat competitiveness building them otherwise becomes a welcome evolution of their relationship. (And I don’t say it’s an unfunny sequence because all random interludes like that are. I really enjoyed the one in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.) These boorish men are simply more entertaining when they’re mean because they’re horrible people and you need to hate them at your core in order to stand their presence. Perhaps I just found myself hating them too much.