By STEPHEN COLE
Friday, July 9, 2004
Directed by Adam McKay
Written by Will Ferrell
and Adam McKay
Starring Will Ferrell,
Christina Applegate and Fred Willard
In the now obligatory-for-comedies, post-credit outtakes, Anchorman's co-writer and star, Will Ferrell can be heard trying out expressions of alarm.
The film is stuffed with oaths befitting a thunderstruck cornball - Oh, great Odin's raven! By the beard of Zeus! Knights of Columbus! It's important Ferrell gets this patter down right because tempestuous squares are his métier. Back in his Saturday Night Live days, the actor's best impersonations included George W. Bush and Charlton Heston.
Ferrell's latest film incarnation is Ron Burgundy, a magnificently stupid TV anchorman who flips out in moments of great stress.
As Ferrell aficionados know, flipping out is what the comic does best. (Anybody remember the old SNL sketch where, as President Bush, he abandoned a dull cabinet meeting by tumbling to the floor to bat around a ball of string?) Ferrell has a half-hour or so of inspired lunacy in Anchorman. The film's opening bit, where the newsman gargles Scotch and hits on female crew members while practising stock elocution lines -- "unique New York . . . unique New York" -- is a sharp, funny sketch that draws us swiftly into the film's setting: a small-market (San Diego) newsroom in the early 1970s.
A time before cable TV, the film's narrator adds, "when only men were allowed to read news."
Into this realm of baritone privilege lands a perky, ambitious female reporter, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate with freckle highlights).
Ron Burgundy is alarmed and smitten. Before long, he's lured Veronica to his favourite nightclub, where he draws a gleaming flute from his jacket and -- you got it! -- flips out: hopping from table to table, legs apart, crotch out, wailing.
Of course, even when he's flipping, Ferrell's Burgundy remains every polyester inch the square. The music here is the polite funk Herbie Mann popularized in the late 1960s.
There are other bright moments in Anchorman. At one point, San Diego affiliate news teams meet in the town square to settle differences with truncheons, an out-of-nowhere parody of the tribal warfare in Gangs of New York. In another scene, Ron's cohorts join together for some earthy guy talk about the new gal. Before too long, however, they realize they're really nuts about Veronica, which results in a deftly choreographed a cappella version of Starlight Vocal Band's ode to nooners -- Afternoon Delight. ("Skyrockets in flight -- eeenn-yhooow . . . afternoon delight!") Of course, this being an SNL alumni party (director/writer Adam McKay was senior writer on the show), Anchorman has more than a little down time.
We're talking about the gaps between Ferrell's flips: in particular Ron and Veronica's on-again, off-again love story, and the continuing battle between Him and Her for the anchor job. In other words: the sequences where the plot is in play and Ferrell isn't.
The film gets far less comic mileage out of its 1970s setting than the recent Starsky and Hutch. Applegate's character is drawn in invisible ink. And Ferrell's sidekicks aren't nearly as provocative as they should be.
Will Ferrell is a scream, no doubt about it. And Anchorman contains some of his best work. But, Knights of Columbus! Wouldn't it be great if TV-based comedians weren't afraid of making movies that were funnier than they are?