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Dustin Putman

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The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

2 Stars

Directed by Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Fred Willard, Chris Parnell, Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Hahn, Fred Armisen, Holmes Osborne, Laura Kightlinger, Luke Wilson, Tim Robbins, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Missi Pyle; narrated by Bill Kurtis.
2004 – 91 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual humor, language, and comic violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 7, 2004.

Entering the marketplace as the third broad comedy in less than a month, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" places smack dab in the middle, behind the delightfully goofy "Dodgeball: A True Underdog's Story" but ahead of the dumb, disposable "White Chicks." As a satire of news broadcasts, the film has its bitey moments of knowing lunacy, but "Dodgeball" was largely more creative and successful in its sports satirizing. The latter's hit-to-miss laugh ratio was also notably higher. For all of the comedy that works spectacularly well in "Anchorman," there are three times as many jokes that either try too hard, or simply fall to the ground with a resounding thud.

Set in the 1970s—a time when the public trusted its newspeople and believed every word they said—Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), lead anchor at San Diego's KVWN Channel 4 Evening News, is at the top of the local ratings. A womanizing male chauvinist in a profession filled with other male chauvinists, Ron Burgundy and his co-workers/co-horts, Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner), and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), feel threatened when the ever-ambitious Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is hired to be the first-ever on-the-scene female news reporter. Ron is instantly smitten with Veronica, who in return finds herself uncontrollably attracted to Ron, but their blooming romance is put into jeopardy when Veronica is promoted to be Ron's co-anchor. It isn't long before Ron realizes Veronica has true talent in the field, whereas he has been coasting along with little to offer but absent-minded charm.

Directed by Adam McKay (making his feature debut after cutting his teeth on TV's "Saturday Night Live"), "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" is an ambitious comedy of hits and misses that has trouble finding its groove. The opening 15 minutes are almost completely lacking in laughs (there are jokes and puns, to be sure, but they are consistently unfunny), and it isn't until the one-hour mark that the film settles into a relatively comfortable pattern of solid material. Much of the humor is intentionally cornball or of the slapstick variety—a fight to the death between the different station's feuding anchors, played in cameos by Luke Wilson (2003's "Alex and Emma"), Ben Stiller (2004's "Starsky & Hutch"), Tim Robbins (2003's "Mystic River"), and in a slightly larger role as smarmy Wes Mantooth, Vince Vaughn (2004's "Dodgeball: A True Underdog's Story"), is so off-the-wall as to almost seem like a fantasy sequence—and it is only on sporadic occasions that it takes off.

When the film does hits the bull's-eye, however, the results are uproarious. The section in which Ron and Veronica go to any length possible to sabotage each other's job inspires a series of genuine guffaws, particularly one scene in which Veronica is introduced on the air in an outrageously derogatory fashion. An on-going joke concerning Ron's confusion over the saying, "When in Rome," and a glimpse at what news anchors might be saying to each other at the end of the program when the sound goes down and the credits roll, are also wittier and funnier than the movie's norm. And the inspired casting of illustrious "American Justice" host Bill Kurtis as the narrator is downright genius, recalling the appearance of "Unsolved Mysteries" host Robert Stack in 1998's "BASEketball."

For some of its running time, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" is able to slide by solely on the big laughs that are garnered. Not so fortunately, the film is bogged down too often in a state of distinct listlessness. While not pivotal to, say, a drama, a comedy's first, middle, and last acts should always be readily apparent to the audience. This is not the case with "Anchorman," which hops from one set-piece to the next without firmly establishing its central plot. Is the movie about Ron Burgundy's journey to becoming a better anchor and a better man? Is it about the cutthroat environment of television news stations, and Ron's attempts to thwart Veronica's rise to the top? Is it a romance between Ron and Veronica? Is it about Ron's fight to retain the top spot amongst the other channel's news programs? The film ends up being all of the above, but not enough time is spent with any of these subplots to make the impact they intend.

One thing is for sure: Will Ferrell (2003's "Elf") is a real movie star, a brilliantly timed comic actor who manages to make Ron Burgundy, a decided scumbag, irresistible. Ron may not have much talent, but Ferrell's likable performance makes it easy to see why this bumbling news anchor captures so many viewers' hearts. Christina Applegate (2002's "The Sweetest Thing") makes Veronica Corningstone a winning presence and much more than a passive love interest, holding her own against Ferrell in some of the picture's funniest moments. While game enough players, Paul Rudd (2003's "The Shape of Things"), Steve Carell (2003's "Bruce Almighty"), and David Koechner (2003's "My Boss's Daughter") fail to make their slimy roles congenial in the same way Ferrell is able to do with Ron. As station boss Ed Harken, the underrated Fred Willard (2003's "American Wedding") struggles with little to do.

"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" is a marginal entertainment with some greatly funny scenes definitely worth seeing, but is the rest of the movie worth wading through to get to them? Probably not. The screenplay, credited to Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay, is a scattershot affair that could have benefited from another rewrite or two, tightening and centering its murky premise. And whatever involvement the viewer has with the characters is due to the fine actors playing them; even Ron Burgundy could be considered a one-dimensional creation. "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" has some worthwhile, realistic statements to make about the changing ways within the male-heavy 1970s work environment, but the film itself doesn't provide enough hard-hitting satirical coverage to make the rest of it palatable.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman