In Will Ferrell’s latest would-be comedy, “Anchorman,” Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, an ego-driven, ostentatiously dressed San Diego anchorman who seems more interested in 1970s fashion than in television news — or language.
“I wanna be on you” is his idea of a great pickup line. “I’m kind of a big deal,” he tells women who don’t immediately recognize him. “People know me.” That’s the movie’s central joke, and it turns up in triplicate when he’s joined by a team of equally boorish assistants.
Paul Rudd, who’s usually such a charmer, wears out his welcome instantly as a chauvinistic newsman who relies on an offensively strong dose of “musk” to seduce women who visit the office. David Koechner plays a maudlin drunk who confesses, when he’s really plowed, that he wants Burgundy to be his roommate. Steve Carrell, from “The Daily Show” (actually, a long way from it), plays an idiot whose non-sequiturs make his friends look smart by comparison.
The men are threatened by the station’s sudden need for “diversity,” which arrives in the form of a hotshot blonde reporter (Christina Applegate), who is determined to become the station’s first anchorwoman. The men will do anything to thwart her, and that’s pretty much the plot.
“Children,” says one of the station’s less gullible female employees, “grow up.” If you’re charmed by wall-to-wall infantile behavior, you won’t be able to get enough of “Anchorman” If not, you probably won’t be visiting the movie at a theater near you anyway.
Applegate does her best to make sense of an ambitious, supposedly sophisticated character who sees through Burgundy, but she loses her grip when the character inexplicably tumbles for him. Fred Willard, as the station’s news director, steals each of his too-short scenes; his one-sided phone conversation with a disciplinary nun is priceless. But Ferrell’s big phone scene, in which he falls apart as he tries to report that his dog is missing, is an embarrassment: an attempt at a tour-de-force that goes terribly wrong.
Directed by “Saturday’s Night Live’s” Adam McKay, who shares the screenplay credit with Ferrell, “Anchorman” was heavily improvised, and it shows — especially as the actors fall all over themselves in search of a proper finale. There’s a showdown featuring macho gangs of competing newsmen (reminiscent of both “West Side Story” and Sergio Leone’s Westerns), as well as a labored rescue scene set in the San Diego zoo.
None of them feels inevitable or particularly satisfying. If you’re looking for a smart comedy about dueling egos on a television news show, check out “Broadcast News” or almost any episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Historical footnote: “Anchorman” concludes with a swipe at the Bush administration that suggests that fools like Carrell’s character will inevitably wind up as part of it. The movie also features what appears to be an unintentional dig at Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent, proudly public use of profanity. Ferrell uses the same three words, though he definitely does not feel better for it.