A film review by Craig J. Koban

 

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY jjj
˝ 

2004, PG-13, 91 mins.

Ron Burgundy: Will Ferrell / Veronica Corningstone: Christina Applegate / Champ Kind: David Koechner / Brick Tamland: Steven Carell / Brian Fantana: Paul Rudd / Ed Harken: Fred Willard / Garth Holliday: Chris Parnell

Directed by Adam McKay /  Written by Will Ferrell and McKay

 

I can’t think of one screen character in recent memory that is as much of a serial egotist and arrogant, self-congratulatory man that is Ron Burgundy.  He populates the world of the new period comedy ANCHORMAN in a state of perpetual and wildly ignorant tunnel vision.  He clearly has no real clue of what a sexist pig he is, nor does he have any real bearing on how silly, moronic, mentally bankrupted, and morally backwards he is capable of being.  Ron is a by-product of the pre-feminism, journalistic environment of the 1970’s, when women were strictly forbidden in the newsroom and definitely, DEFINITELY, not in the anchorman’s chair.  As Ron, in a painfully funny scene early in the film, screams out, “It's anchorman, NOT anchor-woman!” 

Yup, Ron Burgundy is an original comic creation, and he occupies a tremendously hilarious film.  The film is  – ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY – and its name is about as narcissistic as its male characters.  Hell, it may be about a completely sexist group of male anchors that need a slap upside their heads, but it also is a film with a great sense of period and time, satire, and wit.  It is also the funniest film I have seen this year…and I mean side-splittingly funny. 

Ron Burgundy is the most popular anchorman of San Diego’s Channel 4 evening news.  The film is wisely set in the 1970’s for maximum satiric effect.  This was a time, as the surprisingly funny voice over narration (by Bill Curtis) tells us,  that was before VCR’s and Cable TV, a time when people implicitly trusted their respective anchors and took their respective words for absolute truth.  Yes, it was a clear period when network anchors were more renown for their charisma and trustworthiness then true journalistic skills.  I mean, if you watched the evening news every single night with one man, who else will tell you the news and, moreover, whom else could you trust?  If viewers could realize what a petty and cocky SOB Ron Burgundy is, then maybe they’d tune out. 

The film opens with a title card that clearly establishes the correct comic tone of the film: This film "is based on actual events. Only the names, locations, and events have been changed."  We are then quickly introduced to the members of San Diego’s KVMN team.  We have head anchor Ron (Will Ferrell) , sports reporter Champ Kind (David Koechner), weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), and on-the-spot reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd).   This team is the legendary number one team of the city, and if anyone is more intertwined with his own legacy, its most surly Ron ("I have many very important leather-bound books, and my apartment smells of rich mahogany" and “come and see how good I look” Ferrell deadpans at a party early in the film).  Ron has a real problem -  he thinks he’s God’s gift to television news broadcasting, but he’s really one of the dumbest men in San Diego, so dumb that he actually will read, word for word, anything that is on the teleprompter.  And I mean anything! 

It's not all laughs and cheers for Ron, though.  Early in the film, a crisis builds in the newsroom where Ron’s boss (the always underrated Fred Willard) states in a meeting that the station wants more “diversity” on the show.  Ron, being the ultimate ignoramus, says, “Isn’t diversity a sailing ship that was used in the Civil War?”  Well, the diversity that his boss mentioned was hiring a (gasp) woman to the news team as Burgundy’s co-anchor.  The members of the news team are in absolute shock (“I hear that periods attract bears!” states the inept Brick Tamland).  The woman (Christina Applegate) emerges and a battle of the sexes ensues, with Applegate emerging as an effective foil to Ron’s manic comic underpinnings. 

ANCHORMAN is truly a consistent and painfully hilarious film, and it works terrifically on its levels of satire and over-the-top laughs.  Think BROADCAST NEWS with a huge hit of AIRPLANE! and you’ll kind of get the idea.  Setting the film in the 70’s may seem like an uninspired choice, but its crucial to the film’s comic success.  Okay, the film is ridiculously silly and dumb, but it also has kernels of real truth beneath it.  It has a good satiric eye for the behind-the-scenes aspects of television journalism of its time, but it also reflects how terribly difficult it was for a women to be treated respectably  in the then male dominated world of TV news.  In an era of pig-headed male chauvinism, women had a real fight ahead of them, and it’s especially not easy when you have the poster boy for chauvinism – Ron Burgundy – to battle.  Yes, the film is completely farcical and maniac in its comedy, but there’s a bit of a point here. 

There are just so many inspired scenes of comedy in this silly gem, almost too many to mention.  I especially liked an early scene when all the male anchors, trying to unite themselves to battle against the new woman, sing out loud “Afternoon Delight” in a show of solidarity.  Another funny scene involves Ron taking Applegate’s character out and talks about the history of San Diego (“I believe it was founded by the Germans in 1904, and San Diego is German for whale vagina” explains the innocuous and immortally stupid Ron).  Yet another comic high point is when Ron takes Applegate to a jazz pub and engages in a rather unorthodox display of “jazz fluting”.  There are also a huge amount of surprise cameos (none of which I would dare spoil for you), but one scene in particular has Ron and his anchor posse having a huge street fight with three other groups of competing anchors (the scene is a huge shift in tone from the rest of the high jinks, but its so devilish and over-the-top, its impossible not  to be amused).  One of the funnier scenes involving a cameo occurs when Ron causes a motorcycle rider to crash.  What the rider does as payback leads to the biggest (and most shocking) laugh of the film. 

The cast of ANCHORMAN is surprising in how uniformly funny they all are.  Paul Rudd (almost unrecognizable) has some great scenes, especially one involving him trying to seduce Applegate with cologne that is “only legal in 7 countries.”  Applegate also is funny, but in less obvious ways (she plays it straight to counteract the stupidity of the other men).  The unsung comic hero of ANCHORMAN is Steve Carell who plays Brick, the weatherman with an IQ of 40.  Every moment he speaks inspires huge laughs.  Even Fred Willard has a few small moments of hilarity while trying to deal with his son on the phone. 

But make no mistake about it, Will Ferrell OWNS this film.  People often credit “serious” actors who merge with their on-screen characters so effortlessly in dramas.  What about Ferrell’s work here?  He so becomes Ron Burgundy and owns the role so completely, and he nails every nuance  perfectly.  He plays the part both broadly and quietly, demonstrating the difficult art of going for big, outlandish laughs and generating chuckles by only the smallest of minor comments.  It’s quite an amazing performance, because Ferrell really achieves a difficult task -  he makes a male chauvinist pig really quite likeable.  He is capable of saying the absolute stupidest things, but there’s kind of an underlying warmth and sweetness to him.  One scene shows his sensitive and outlandish touch at the same time.  After the apparent death of a “loved one”, he calls the newsroom from a pay phone.  This scene is a masterstroke of comic timing and ferocity, simultaneously making the audience laugh at him and feel sorry for him at the same time.  I have not laughed so hard at another scene all year. 

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY is a wonderfully silly and farcical film, one that works consistently throughout its 90 minutes. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a funnier and sharper comedy all year.  What it does and does so well is blend together sharp satire, funny characters, and a lot of broad humour.  You may not like Ron for what he stands for, but its impossible not to like Ron himself.  So much of the time he inspires so much laughter, it’s impossible not to be won over by him, and Ferrell does a masterful job here.  He may be crude and threaten to punch Applegate “in the ovaries, right in the babymaker,” but he’s also a kind of warm-hearted chauvinist, especially when he comes home from a hard day’s work and talks to his small dog.  “Look at you,” says Ron, “you’re so wise, like a miniature Buddha covered in hair.”  I mean, it’s sure hard to hate the guy!

 

  H O M E