Anchorman, cowritten by its star, Will Ferrell, plays like a series of strung-together outtakes. There’s a vague plot about the fall and rise of a San Diego newsman whose polyester suits are brighter than he is, but this doesn’t propel the movie forward so much as keep it from spilling off the edges of the screen and soaking the audience. Ferrell has never met a sentence he didn’t think could get a laugh, and he’ll spend any amount of celluloid to make his point.
Anchorman didn’t spring from Saturday Night Live — it only feels that way. Director and cowriter Adam McKay was a writer for the show, and current and former SNL cast members Chris Parnell, Fred Armisen and David Koechner appear. Stocked with more famous-face cameos than a Friars Club roast, Anchorman also features former cast members of The Ben Stiller Show, Mr. Show with Bob and David, Upright Citizens Brigade and Freaks and Geeks. Can you swear this movie hasn’t been on television already?
The biggest laughs come from the most nonsensical moments, including an incredibly violent rumble between Burgundy’s Channel 4 news team (Koechner, The Daily Show‘s Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd) and the other stations’ reporters, played by Vince Vaughn (as Wes Mantooth) and just about everyone else with whom Ferrell has ever worked.
Anchorman is set, an off-screen narrator says, during the ’70s, “the time before cable, when the local anchor reigned supreme and only men were allowed to read the news.” Reading the news is Ron Burgundy’s sole talent, and even that is suspect. But he is by far the smartest of the news-dispensing quartet: Rudd’s correspondent, Brian Fantana, has a nickname not only for his penis but also for each testicle. Koechner’s urban cowboy, Champ Kind, is “all about having fun” and starting the occasional fire. And Carell’s Brick Tamland possesses an IQ of 48, though he will eventually prove handy with a trident. (Carell provides the movie’s best moments; he’s nuts enough to render Ferrell the straight man.)
They’re useless without each other and … OK, useless with each other, too. All share a disdain for the idea of women in the newsroom, especially when Veronica (Christina Applegate) is assigned to the team. She will ultimately be Ron’s undoing. Their relationship begins as a rivalry, evolves into a romance (she’s particularly impressed with Ron’s ability to play jazz flute) and collapses into their trading hysterically rude insults beneath the newscast’s credits.
One is willing to forgive Anchorman its idiocy because of its lunacy. It exists solely to get a laugh, not to make a point, and it gets extra points for managing to carry on an erection joke for so long that it stops being funny and starts being funny all over again in the same scene. Even more impressive, a movie set in the ’70s still gets in a jab at George W. Bush. Anchorman is stupid, sure, but never dumb, which is news indeed at a time when people think the rancid White Chicks is funny.