There's a scene in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" where the No. 1 TV news team in San Diego, headed up by the titular newsman (Will Ferrell), is challenged to a fight by the No. 2 team, anchored by Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn). All heck breaks loose, and before long most of the Slack Pack is involved, including Luke Wilson as the head of the perpetually-last-place telecast and Ben Stiller as the Spanish language anchor.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh at the ensuing free-for-all -- a one-shot celebration of the current big screen kings of comedy -- but the scene is also a lazy piece of writing. "Anchorman," chronicling an old boys' club news station in the 1970s, has at its disposal a treasure trove of topics ripe for parody, but falls back on cheap gags -- or in the above case, a "what in the world?!" spasm of silliness -- too many times.
If you go
Title: "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"
Playing at: Movies 10 at Westgate
Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Fred Willard, Vince Vaughn
Written by: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
Director: Adam McKay
Ultimately, "Anchorman" is not enough of a good thing.
Written by Adam McCay and Ferrell and directed by McCay, "Anchorman" finds Channel 4 News invaded by Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), an ambitious young reporter who is promptly assigned the dog and pony show beat by station manager Ed Harken (Fred Willard). He can barely grasp the notion of a female reporter, let alone a female anchor. But Corningstone finds herself attracted to the egotistical yet lonely Burgundy -- who sleeps with his dog, wearing matching pajamas -- and it becomes less easy to trample him as a professional rival.
Ferrell displays his usual goofy charm, but he's not convincing as a dramatic actor. Even the silliest comedies need dramatic moments, and Ferrell doesn't deliver when he screams about his "glass cage of emotion" in a phone booth, nor when he spends three consecutive days at the same bar stool. Compare Ferrell to Leslie Nielsen in the "Naked Gun" films.
As was the case with "Bruce Almighty" (where he played an anchorman, in fact), "The Daily Show's" Steve Carell is the funniest actor here. He plays mildly retarded weatherman Brick Tamland, whose only skill is tracking a storm front. The frying-pan-faced Harken has an amusing telephone subplot involving his druggie son, and "Saturday Night Live's" Chris Parnell is so funny looking with a beard that he doesn't have to say a word, although I do wish he had more of a character to play.
The goofiness works early in the film, when nearly every male in the pre-P.C. workplace slobbers in Corningstone's wake. The funniest jokes, as you can imagine, involve pants -- Burgundy's and Tamland's. And when those two, along with sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner) and roving reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), break into a flawless a cappella rendition of "Afternoon Delight" in an attempt to pinpoint Burgundy's feelings for Corningstone, it's comedic gold.
But as "Anchorman" rolls on, the silliness supplants any notions of caring about the characters, and the missed opportunities pile up. There aren't enough '70s jokes of the type that made the "Starsky and Hutch" movie such fun. And the writers skip the obvious comedic treasure trove: the battle for ratings. Every station is content to fight it out for the same panda-giving-birth story.
Instead of being a biting parody of TV news, "Anchorman" is just a movie where you can see Ferrell kiss a dog. That's good for a chuckle, but it's hardly news.
JOHN HANSEN, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.
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