starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steven Carell
screenplay by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
directed by Adam McKay
by Walter Chaw The topic of 1970s television anchormen is so far out of mind that it can't possibly bear a feature-length spoofing, and sure enough, "SNL" director Adam McKay's feature-film debut Anchorman is at once overstuffed and completely lifeless. It boasts a surreal touch here and again, but it's built on a one-joke premise and only the latest in a long line of witless and dull slapstick comedies. With no anchor to the satire, what remains is a film that's really only funny to the three or four people who thought it was a good idea in the first place. The opportunity to skewer sexism in television news along with its general vacuity is squandered before the altar of quick turnaround and die-cast opening dates. If they wanted to at least salvage what they had, Anchorman needed a few more months in the oven.
The similarities it shares with films better (Dodgeball) and worse (Bruce Almighty) is further highlighted by a cast of usual suspects Steven Carell, David Koechner, Fred Willard, Missi Pyle, Old School alumni Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson, and Vince Vaughn, plus cameo players Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Tim Robbins--to say nothing of a perfunctory and largely unappreciated reference to the original Planet of the Apes. But what Anchorman most resembles in its missed opportunities and general quality is Starsky and Hutch, another film featuring Ferrell and another film that Ferrell, for all of his talents, was unable to salvage.
Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) is a chauvinistic boor of a man, the head anchor of San Diego's leading local news show. In pursuit of elusive diversity, Burgundy's boss (Willard) introduces a female reporter, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate, still not a comedienne), to the proudly all-male news team (Carell, Koechner, Paul Rudd). Another gender-role misfire after the 2004 version of The Stepford Wives, Anchorman feels suspiciously like a series of improvised bits punctuated by desperately elaborate situational gags, including a rumble between rival television news crews, an a capella rendition of "Afternoon Delight," and a gutsy (yet somehow unfunny) subtitled dialogue between a dog and a bear. The alleged central tension between a sexist who doesn't know anything and a talented, courageous woman who does is banished in favour of threadbare tit and dick jokes while "SNL" actors past and present parade by in brownface. Broadcast News this ain't.
Anchorman relies on the assumed inherent humour of the 1970s. It hopes that the hair, the clothes, and especially the music will tickle in place of strong writing and some sense of timing and direction. The whole exercise has the smug feeling of a Kevin Smith film--it's a cameo dumpster that doesn't even have the wit to kill Danny Trejo. Although Ferrell's occasional impromptu proclamations of "By the beard of Zeus!" and "Great Odin's raven!" suggest an infinite amount of quirky smarts, an animated interlude that misses the chance to reference the whacked-out children's cartoons of the '70s illustrates what's wrong. The audience is writing a script in their heads as Anchorman unreels listlessly--and our version is a lot funnier. Originally published: July 9, 2004.