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I've decided something, after many years of dissention on the issue: It's not that Will Ferrell isn't funny, it's that Will Ferrell wasn't funny on Saturday Night Live. I've never really been a big fan of Will's, as I've mentioned many times here before. But since his departure from Lorne Michaels' long-unfunny sinking ship, Ferrell has been showing that he can can carry movies better than I would have ever suspected from watching his SNL days. While I found him brilliant in Todd Phillips' OLD SCHOOL, I wasn't completely impressed with his first lead outing, ELF. But I'd say that had more to do with the material than Ferrell himself. Ferrell has finally gotten a starring vehicle that was apparently custom-made for him in ANCHORMAN.
First, I gotta go back a few months to the point in which I first saw the trailers for ANCHORMAN. I really thought it looked like ass. Nothing interested me at all for months upon months, until the night that I saw DODGEBALL and was finally treated to the full trailer. Once the one-note "hey, look, it takes place in the 70's and they all have mustaches so it must be funny" gimmick was shelved in favor of some of the film's actual audacity, I changed my mind and decided that ANCHORMAN was indeed something I wanted to see.
And that actually ties in to the first compliment that I'll pay ANCHORMAN: It doesn't overkill its setting. The basic story behind the film requires that it take place nearly thirty years in the past, but it doesn't milk the time setting for all it's worth, unlike, oh, say, THE WEDDING SINGER did with the 80's. The fashion is accurate and not exaggerated, and the jokes are subtle. The real humor is built in to the actual script, something that seems like a novel idea in this day and age of lazy comedy.
ANCHORMAN, as the full title would imply, is the story of Ron Burgundy, a San Diego news anchor in an all-male newsroom. Ron is a local icon, and is on top of the world with wild parties and an exotic lifestyle. His cohorts are a colorful bunch. The sports guy, Champ Kind, is a sleazy Texas stereotype; the man on town, Brian Fantana, looks like he was plucked from a used car lot; and the weatherman, Brick Tamland, lacks the ability to think for himself. Together, they have risen to the top spot in the ratings war, which has spawned a feud with a rival station or five.
Everything seems perfect until the announcement of their latest anchor, a woman by the name of Veronica Corningstone. The idea of a woman in the newsroom doing anything beyond bringing coffee or applying make-up seems ludicrous to them, but they all decide to take turns wooing her. Veronica and Ron fall for one another, which leads to a bit of dissention in the ranks. But professional jealousy gets in the way, and Ron finds himself without a girlfriend or a job.
Anchorman works for a lot of reasons, and part of that is the casting. Ferrell plays Ron with a subdued charm that's a far cry from the hysterical characters he usually plays, but he still gets to delve into what brought him to the table to begin with. The supporting cast is fantastic as well. Paul Rudd can go from playing the ultimate sweetheart (CLUELESS, Friends) to the ultimate sleazeball (WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, this film) with no effort at all. Steve Carrell pulls off the otherwise uninteresting character of Brick with his comic abilities. Christina Applegate is comfortable and believeable in her role as Veronica. Fred Willard is terrific as usual. In fact, the only major player in the film who doesn't work is David Koechner, and that's because he plays that same idiot redneck that he does in 90% of his SNL sketches.
Oh, and there's also a ton of cameos. I mean, like, a ton of cameos, from some of the best in comedy right now. Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, and Tim Robbins show up in some hilarious turns.
All the while, the jokes fire at you in a rapid-fire pace, sometimes leaving you behind in the process. Not every gag is setup-payoff; a lot of it is completely unexpected and even surreal in nature. Half the time, it comes off like the actors are improvising, and I mean that in a good way. The film avoids going too far in the way of cheap gross-out gags, but rather comes up with one clever zinger after another.
Anchorman works better when it attempts to be a satire of the industry than when it goes over-the-top, but I still found myself laughing at some of the ridiculous sequences in the film. However, the newscaster gang-fight and Ron's sequence with the jazz flute could easily be omitted from the film and not be missed, because they turn the film toward a direction that is best left out. But still, it's certainly better than I initially expected it to be, and definitely worth a look.
But the television ads may mislead you a bit: They feature a few scenes that aren't even in the film. At no point in the film do Ron and Veronica leap onto a crowded boardroom desk and yell "let's make a baby!". More surprisingly, nothing even leads up to such a scene. There are also some alternate scenes from a staff party and from Ron and Veronica's first date that didn't make it into the film as well.
Oh, and finally, make sure you stick around for the credits -- all of the credits. There are some outtakes and an alternate scene at the end of it all, as well as some bloopers (including one that managed to sneak its way in from a certain other film that was made around the time this one takes place.)
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