Ah, to be a news anchor. To have legions of citizens who regularly depend on you for every fact that enters and exits their minds. To have potent, charismatic control over a voice that, as the announcer in Anchorman puts it, "can make a wolverine purr." To have all the glamour of media and the integrity of truth combined with a non-regional accent.
To believe Anchorman's main character Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), anchormanliness is next to godliness. When we meet him, Burgundy is the sort of guy who is happy to return each night to his empty home full of himself, having figured out the great American Dream of having everyone pay attention to him. In other words, Ron Burgundy is on TV. As the No. 1 anchorman in San Diego during "a time before cable," Burgundy spends his time talking to his dog, flirting with his office staff and lounging every night around a nonstop pool party, groping his romantic conquests while keeping one hand firmly on his drink.
Into this idyllic fratboy lifestyle, trouble arrives -- as it often does -- in the shapely form of a new colleague. Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), blonde and ambitious, is brought onto the "Channel 4 News Team" to make it more diverse. She's promptly assigned to cover a fashion show for cats, and faster than Burgundy can say "I want to be on you," Applegate has fallen prey to his charms and the two are on their way to an animated sequence entitled "Pleasuretown."
There's not much plot past this point. (She wants his job. He just wants her. The dog goes missing.) This leaves plenty of room for Ferrell and the supporting cast to dive in and begin improvising. Ferrell is very good at this. His rambling, dimwitted monologues build upon themselves. Like his fellow Saturday Night Live alum Mike Myers, Ferrell has the ability to push a joke far beyond the point where it's funny, and launch it into the delirious and absurd. This matches Fred Willard, a veteran of director Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman) comedies and no slouch when it comes to improvisation. Willard, as the director of the Channel 4 newsroom, moves along briskly, tossing his best lines away without seeming to know what he's saying.
It's funny work, and everyone in the film eventually gets a chance to show off (even Ben Stiller, in his relentless campaign to be in everything). But, without a story, or at the very least some romantic chemistry, Anchorman never really has any momentum beyond its silliness. As the credits roll, showing outtakes from the film and improvisations that weren't used, there's a lingering feeling that it would have been better to wait for the DVD, where this material will probably be collected. There, not only can you see it all, but there's also less need for it to achieve coherence. It can ramble, like a series of comedy sketches. And you'll be watching Ron Burgundy on TV, where he belongs.
Publication date: 07/15/04