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  Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Adam McKay, USA, 2004
Rating: 3.7
 

Posted: July 13, 2004

Will Ferrell is like hot sauce. Too little and you're left with a bland offering; too much and it overpowers the meal. But, in the correct amount, it's a superb complement that enhances one's dining experience. In Anchorman, Ferrell is utilized perfectly. His Ron Burgundy character is strong enough, and funny enough, to not have to be the nexus of the entire film. This gives rise to an equally strong supporting cast, the rest of his colorfully named news team: sports anchor and overly enthusiastic male-bonding devotee Champ Kind (David Koechner); live-action reporter and wearer of Sex Panther perfume Brian Fontana (Paul Rudd); and last, but certainly not least, Brick Tamland (Steven Carell), the weatherman with an IQ cresting around 48. This formidable foursome dominates the local news scene in San Diego and has taken full advantage of their local celebrity status. When new reporter Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) arrives on the scene, she's faced with a "pre-politically correct" workplace and has to fight off the lecherous advances of Burgundy's news crew.

This is where things go wrong. But first, let's take a look at what goes right. Rival news anchorman Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn) and his news crew bumps into Burgundy's bunch on the street, leading to by far the funniest sequence of the entire film, with the numbers one, two and three rated news crews, along with the local public television and Spanish channel crews, engaging in a no-holds-barred, "get medieval"-worthy battle. Each news personality breaks out his own weapon: a switchblade, a table leg, a bat with rusty nails in it, a gun, a plank of wood with circular saw blades affixed to it, a grenade, and a chain. And in the heat of the battle, there's a moment that, as far as I am concerned, ranks right up there with Rhett telling Scarlet he doesn't give a damn: cerebrally challenged weatherman Brick Tamland slays a competing network personality with a trident. Yes, that's right: a trident!! If you look up the phrase "comedic genius" in the dictionary, well, you won't find it 'cause it's actually two words. But if there were a dictionary that had two-word descriptive phrases, you would find this as its definition. Total brilliance.

There's just enough filler material in Anchorman to functionally transition from skit to skit -- not surprising, given that director and co-writer Adam McKay was once a head writer at Saturday Night Live. But this isn't a bad thing, because it's the skits that carry the film, from Burgundy playing an inspired "jazz flute" rendition of "Aqualung" to the clueless newscaster almost killing a passing motorcyclist (Jack Black) by tossing a half-eaten burrito out of his car window. It all works.

Sadly, it's when Anchorman turns to the conflict of Burgundy versus Corringstone that the film falls into a tired, battle-of-the-sexes storyline. In my oh-so-humble opinion, Anchorman would have been a far, far better film if it had focused primarily on the rivalry between the competing news crews from different stations. Vaughn's Wes Mantooth is ripe with underdeveloped potential. I can just see all the personalities sabotaging each other, and then banding together to fight the common threat of the emerging cable news networks. I know that the whole point of this movie is that Burgundy is a blowhard who doesn't realize he hasn't earned his ego, and that clueless chauvinism is easier to plow for laughs. But Will Ferrell and his '70s cohorts vs. a Ted Turner type and his burgeoning cable network -- heck, throw in Christina Applegate for good measure as a female cable anchor, to symbolize the impending changing of the guard: That just lends itself to a funnier story.

No, the film isn't everything that it could be. But in a larger sense, with the growing number of films directed toward syphilitic mouth-breathers, a film with flashes of genius should still be heralded. Let me explain: You see, there are people who will laugh at a newsman getting killed by a trident, but they really can't appreciate why the use of the trident is funny. For them, a bat or a shovel would have delivered the same comedic effect. The use of the trident is lost on them. And that, to me, is just sad. So there is enough brilliance in Anchorman to allow one to overlook its more (no doubt studio ordained) traditional plotlines. And do I really need to say it again? Kill a guy with a trident, and I'm there.

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