Will Ferrell is the go-to guy if you want to laugh your-self silly. He could read your mom’s Rolodex and get you giggling. Sadly, your mom’s Rolodex would provide richer comic material than Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, a proudly dumbass look at the hard-partying, butt-grabbing macho-macho men who ran TV news in the 1970s. As played with sleazy glee by Ferrell, Ron Burgundy is the polyester prince of the Channel 4 news team in San Diego. Big-haired blondes swoon over Ron’s blow-dried hair and coiffed mustache. “Your heinie is breathtaking,” he tells one babe. “I want to be friends with it.” Ron’s anchorman sign-off at Channel 4 is a hilariously unapt “Stay classy.”
Ron would have made a terrific character for Ferrell to develop on Saturday Night Live, the Lorne Michaels comedy factory he left last season after seven years of inspired mimicry. It’s a shame that Anchorman, which Ferrell co-wrote with former SNL head writer Adam McKay — making his seat-of-the-pants debut as a director — plays like loosely strung-together SNL skits that no one gave the slightest thought to developing. Scenes just end abruptly or dribble away.
That said, Anchorman slaps a goofy smile on your face. The plot, such as it is, revolves around a feminist threat to the boys’ club. Reporter Veronica Corningstone, played by Christina Applegate (she’s delectable, if that isn’t too much of a Seventies chauvinist-pig term), invades the newsroom and ts sniffing after Ron’s anchor perch. No one feels threatened as long as Veronica sticks to cooking segments and covering cat shows. Ron even gets to do “the no-pants dance” with Veronica — she falls under his spell when he plays jazz flute at a local club. Then disaster strikes. A motorcycle-riding sadist (nifty cameo from Jack Black) drop-kicks Ron’s dog Baxter off a bridge (Baxter barks in Spanish; the film provides subtitles). When the tragic occurrence makes Ron late for work, Veronica sits in at the anchor desk, ratings skyrocket, and Ron’s testosterone runs a few quarts low.
Where can Ron turn? To his news team, of course. Ferrell is lucky to be surrounded by some of the best improv actors in the business, including David Koechner as Champ Kind, Paul Rudd as field reporter Brian Fantana and Steve Carell, of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, as Brick Tamland, a weatherman of more than usual stupidity. A postscript tells us that Brick later finds employment as a political analyst for the Bush White House.
If you sense the presence of recycled jokes from Animal House onward, you’d be right. But you’d be wrong to discount the comic rapport Ferrell has with his cohorts, notably the priceless Fred Willard as the harried station manager. There’s no sense to the scene in which the boys get together for a close-harmony rendition of “Afternoon Delight” — just pure pleasure. The cameos from the likes of Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and new Oscar winner Tim Robbins are similarly scattershot. But Anchorman — that rare Ferrell film in which the fails to bare his buttocks — has a puppy-dog eagerness to please. Ron is even funny trying to convince Veronica that San Diego is a German term for a whale’s vagina. Stay classy, kid.