Will Ferrell/Adam McKay's touchstone satire of 1970’s broadcast journalism culture still bristles with some of the most absurd mainstream comedy in recent years. Remarkably most of these gags still land successfully and thus will likely continue to do so in years to come, aligning itself with those timeless classics of the Mel Brooks, ZAZ, Blake Edwards, and Monte Python films of the past.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) dir. Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell, Fred Willard
By Alan Bacchus
The obscenely authoritative voiceover by renowned newsman Bill Curtis sets the exaggerated tone early. Announcing it’s the 1970’s in the era of the local news journalist who were celebrated figures in their day. Ron Burgundy, a terrific character name, almost pornographic in its clarity, is god among men in San Diego, the #1 anchorman in the city, a man who carries himself with a confident pimp-like swagger trailed by his doting minions field reporter Brian Fantana (Rudd), sportscaster Champ Kind (Koechner) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell).
Stay classy San Diego is Burgundy’s catch-phrase, but he’s anything but. Burgundy’s exaggerated bravado and celebrity masks his intellectual simplicity. His place at the head of the table is challenged by the sprite new female journalist Veronica Corningstone (Applegate), brought in for diversity, a term Burgundy confidently refers to as a wooden naval ship sunk in the Civil War.
The uber-masculine behaviour towards Veronica is humourously excessive. Nothing is subtle in this picture, but the tone, however heightened is remarkably consistent. Burgundy and his men are juvenile in extremis, in particular the discreetly closeted gay Champ Kind. His obscene demonstration of the perkiness of Veronica ass provides extended guffaws.
There are numerous scenes which riff longer than needed. The oddball West Side Story streetfight between four rival news teams is batshit crazy and seems to belong in another film. Vince Vaughn as Burgundy’s rival is off-the-wall but then three other teams show up led by cameos from Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins, and Luke Wilson. By the end of this, it’s nearly 5 mins segment of the film which doesn’t move the narrative at all and yet is humourous by its mere existence.
Random detours in plot would seem to the modus operandi for all of these Ferrell/McKay pictures (Talladega Nights, The Other Guys), the most ludicrous arguably being 2008’s Stepbrothers. Some of the most memorable bits in here include Brian Fantana’s panther cologne, Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate’s hilarious quid-pro-quo attempts to break the other person on camera, Ron Burgundy’s inadvertent erection in the presence of Veronica, the a capella Afternoon Delight diddy, as well as Fred Willard’s inane phone conversations with his miscreant son.
High concept satirical comedies tend to lose steam after the set up when an actual plot needs to form and arc over the course of 90mins. Somehow Anchorman manages to remain consistently funny throughout, in part by lampoon the very nature of comedy narratives. Thus nothing is out of bounds in Anchorman.
Anchorman is available in a 2-Disc ‘Rich Mahagony’ Special Edition by Paramount Home Media Distribution