In a summer of countless superheroes, tense political documentaries and teen buddy films it is refreshing to have Will Ferrell around to save the day. Farrell’s new film, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is the funniest, farciest and raciest comedy to come along this year.
The plot is pretty basic comedic play on the war between the sexes. Set in the 70’s, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is an anchorman with many faults: bad hair, bad clothes, no social graces and no apparent off-switch. He is even clueless enough to read anything on the monitor in front of him. Despite all of this, he remains a citywide phenomenon as the lead anchor of San Diego’s KVWN news team. Burgundy’s career, built on a cavalier attitude, sexist jokes and boorish behavior is challenged when newcomer Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) turns up, giving KVWN a breath of feminism and a new attitude. Her arrival signals the end of Burgundy’s run as the station’s on-air head-honcho. An all-out battle of the sexes occurs, thrusting the anchors into fierce competition and an unexpected romance.
Despite being a sexual animal that offers a 70s girl like Veronica Corningstone anything she could want, Ron is a buffoon. Once he is smitten, he does all he can to woo his colleague by being suave, hip, nice and even playing a mean jazz flute. Eventually, sparks fly and passions unfurl for Veronica and Ron--until Burgundy’s ego and complete apathy to woman’s lib kick in and ruin everything.
If that isn’t enough, every news team in town, led by Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn), is out for Ron Burgundy’s blood. Even the PBS pledge drive team (led by a brilliantly tweedy Tim Robbins) hates his guts. They wouldn’t understand him going soft and falling for Veronica.
Throughout the film Burgundy manages to self-destruct and put himself back together again. It is a joy to watch him coil, cringe, stumble and bumble from misadventure to misadventure. He fights off his naysayers, skeptics and critics around every turn to remain a top Anchorman.
Anchorman is Will Farrell’s picture. Besides starring in the film, he co-wrote the script with director Adam McKay of the Upright Citizens Brigade. This allowed him the creative control necessary to showcase both his improvisational skills and his mastery of physical comedy. His Ron Burgundy, an offbeat hybrid of Ted Knight and Burt Reynolds, is comedy’s most refreshing new franchise since Austin Powers. This is not surprising because Ferrell’s success has always been his innate charm. He specializes in creating memorable and lovable oafs that moviegoers root for and relate to.
The comedic charm of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy also lies in its terrific ensemble cast. Christina Applegate is terrific. She plays it straight for most of the film, never wavering from her role as the serious foil for Burgundy’s antics. Applegate steps nimbly between moments of real drama and complete tomfoolery with great ease. She gives Veronica a soul, a pulse, and a sense of onscreen determination that are immediately likable. Fred Willard’s turn as Ed Harken, the station manager is hilarious. He is so out there and goofy that you can’t help but feel for the guy. Also great are Steve Carrell and David Koechner as members of the KVWN news team. Carrell plays Brick Tamland, a nebbish, out to lunch weatherman with the brains of a cumulous cloud. Carrell almost steals the movie by brandishing moments of genuine stupidity with old-fashioned slapstick. Koechner plays Champ Kind, a quasi-closeted sportscaster with inferiority issues. Imagine WKRP’s Gordon Jump on speed and you get an idea of what Koechner brings to the role. Sadly, Paul Rudd is underused as Brian Fantana, the station’s cologne crazed, skirt-chasing reporter.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is a deviously pleasant cinema experience. Will Ferrell has brilliantly combined an amalgamation of styles and textures. Anchorman mixes the outright silliness of Austin Powers, flavors it with the kitschy bravado aesthetic of Smokey & The Bandit and sprinkles it with the working girl doing it right ethos of 9 To 5 that leaves us with a nostalgic and eerily realistic look at how it was in the TV newsrooms of yesteryear. Besides being a coming out party for Ferrell’s comedic genius, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is 2004’s best gut-splitting laugh out-loud comedy.