WFTB Score: 9/20
The plot: Ron Burgundy is lord of all he surveys as Anchor at San Diego’s Channel 4 News, until feisty young Veronica Corningstone arrives at the station and turns his world upside-down. A battle of the sexes ensues between the testosterone-driven old guard and the station’s first female anchor.
I presume, somewhere in the world, there are comedy aficionados able to reel off every single film that Judd Apatow has produced and/or every film that Will Ferrell has starred in. Anchorman fits in the middle of a slew of films in which one or both men have been involved: Old School, Wedding Crashers, Semi-Pro, Zoolander, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory, The 40 Year Old Virgin, so on and so forth. Between them, they appear to have produced a new comedy every other month for the last eight years, so it is hardly surprising that one should find a lot that is familiar from one film to the next.
Will Ferrell (co-writer here with director Adam McKay) plays the title character Ron Burgundy, enjoying his successful if shallow life as the top news anchor in San Diego, ably assisted by his all-male reporting team (Paul Rudd, David Koechner, and Steve Carell). The film quickly establishes two things: firstly, that Burgundy is essentially lonely, only having his talkative dog Baxter for company; and secondly, that in the snarling world of news, Burgundy has enemies, largely but not solely in the shape of Channel 9’s Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn). When Burgundy spots perky newcomer Veronica (Christina Applegate) at the not-at-all depressing party he and his team have been frequenting for twelve years, he is knocked for six. Although the rest of the news team hit on her, Ron and Veronica get together, but things turn sour when Veronica anchors his show to great effect and station manager Ed Harken (Fred Willard) makes them co-anchors.
If the character of Ron Burgundy is meant to be any sort of comment on the sexual politics of the 1970s, it comes up a long way short. The clothes and sets are all fine, but Ferrell’s Burgundy is simply a look, a lot of shouting, and a whole bunch of stupid; in fact, the whole film boils down to a whole bunch of stupid, and it is really a matter of taste whether you find the individual elements funny. For example, Ron beguiles Veronica with a jazz flute performance, which I didn’t laugh at; Ron misses his news slot because Baxter gets kicked off a bridge by an irate Jack Black, which I didn’t laugh at; none of Rudd and Koechner’s attempts to distract Veronica whilst reading the news made me laugh either.
For the most part, wherever the film is allowed to descend into childishness it misses the mark (the prank calls being another example), the script failing to deliver on jokes or characterisation. As a result, it feels as though you’re meant to appreciate the funny people, rather than people being funny, a feeling reinforced by the plethora of cameos: apart from Vaughn and Black, a massive fight between all of San Diego’s news teams sees the introduction of Tim Robbins, Luke Wilson and (of course) Ben Stiller. Although the scene is entertaining, I wasn’t impressed simply by these actors turning up, especially when they quickly run out of jokes and the stand-off turns into an ultra-violent melée – these men are all kids on the inside. In this company, Applegate does well to hold her own and not come across as too much of a harpy.
For all these negatives and the fact that the story concludes in unconvincing fashion (Veronica is pushed into a bear pit at the zoo, Ron fails to save her, they are both rescued by Baxter’s negotiating skills), if you don’t want much more than shouting and silliness Anchorman is a fun and easy-going movie. All the players are watchable and Steve Carell is a joy as the moronically slow, Trident-wielding weatherman Brick Tamland; and for all the duff comedy moments, there is some good stuff too, not least the spontaneous rendition of Afternoon Delight which is as welcome as it is unexpected. So whilst Anchorman is a pretty standard product from the non-stop comedy factory, it does have a few highlights to distinguish it from the pack; it’s just a shame a bit of the time taken to rope in old friends wasn’t spent writing more of them.