Monday, February 7, 2011

Short Review: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004)

60% of the time, it works every time.

Like the words of reporter-in-the-field, Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Anchorman works about 60% of the time. But when it does, it is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is a somewhat intelligent satire of 1970's culture, media and Action News format, full of hysterical moments and memorable quotes. It actually improves on subsequent viewings, as many people may initially find it too over-the-top. This is one of the few comedy classics of the decade, and without doubt Will Ferrell's best work. He co-wrote the screenplay with director Adam McKay, in the first of now four working collaborations. The others have gotten increasingly worse, culminating in the recent disaster, The Other Guys (2010).

Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, an Emmy Award winning journalist and the network anchor of the KVWN Channel 4 News Team. Burgundy is idolized throughout San Diego, where his network frequents at number one in the ratings. His team also includes the aforementioned Fantana, dim-witted weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell), and the sports jock Champ Kind (David Koechner), who are all supervised by Network Director Ed Harken (a hilarious Frank Willard). This brutish masculine world is placed in turmoil following the arrival of Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), a headstrong and ambitious journalist brought in to comply with the newly instituted 'diversity standards'. Ron at first has an infatuation with Corningston, aggressively courting her and starting a love affair. But this leads to serious unprofessional behavior from Ron, who is finally dismissed from the network and replaced by Corningstone as lead anchor. Most of the conflict ensues between the pair, who become bitter rivals at the network, but the best moments are found amongst the male team, and the host of recognized supporting actors who pop up all over the place.

The film's grand highlight, and most talked about sequence is the battle between the news teams in an abandoned car park. Having become bummed out because of increasing loss of respect amongst their rivals due to Corningstone's growing responsibility at the Network, the men decide to buy new suits. In the search they get lost and run into their fiercest rivals, Channel 9 Evening News Team, led by Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn). Challenged to a duel, the men pull out an assortment of weapons from within their suits, including a table leg, a pistol and a hand grenade, among others. Soon enough the men are joined by three more rival all male news teams, fronted by Luke Wilson, Tim Robbins and Ben Stiller, who are all out for Ron Burgundy's blood. A furious battle escalates out of proportions as newsmen are caught in nets and dragged on horseback, catch on fire, have their arms chopped off and are spiked by tridents. It is insane, furious action. Another notable sequence is Fantana's application of Sex Panther cologne (illegal in nine countries) to impress Corningstone, which emits a foul funk one Network employee pronounced to smell like "Bigfoot's dick". Ferrell's jazz flute performance is also brilliant.

The supports are all great, but the film hinges on Ferrell's performance. I am usually not a fan of his work, but his portrayal of Burgundy hits the right notes here, and is a calculated mix of too-sure-of-himself charisma with a sad humanity of low self-esteem and tormented masculine pride. It would have also been great to see more stabs at Network newsreaders. I mean, we see during the credits, his toungue-twister warm-ups, the many mocking jokes about his face and hair, and his unfortunate mishap with the teleprompter, but it could have gone further. The film also hinges on being 'too stupid' at times, but just about everything that Brick Tamland comes out with is great material. Also keep a listen out for Frank Willard's phone conversations involving his son. Unfortunately, the conclusion is pretty disappointing, and I must admit most of the film's best moments are found in the first half. It runs out of ideas near the end and becomes ridiculous and implausible, as the added emotional weight to the plot results in fewer laughs. Nevertheless, Anchorman remains one of my favorite recent comedies. Full of fairly consistent big laughs and plenty of moments to quote and discuss, it is a pretty outrageous experience, but sure to please more than not.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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