Farrell vehicle is ‘90-some minutes of extravagant silliness’
Anchorman makes a show of spoofing TV news of the 1970s, but that’s little more than an excuse for 90-some minutes of extravagant silliness, or for a Will Ferrell vehicle, which is perhaps the same thing.
Centered on one Ron Burgundy (Ferrell), a San Diego TV station’s star news anchor, the clowning takes place in a slightly incoherent media-made world whose inhabitants dress like an approximation of the ‘70s, party like an approximation of the ‘60s and wallow in an approximation of sexism in the ‘50s. The arrival of an ambitious and attractive co-anchor (Christina Applegate) throws the station in general and Burgundy in particular into rambunctious turmoil. What results is less satire than sophomoric sex farce.
Via the Applegate character, the film dabbles in Erin Brockovich-like feminism, but Anchorman‘s comedy focuses mainly on its men, nearly all of whom look like adults but behave like junior-high-school kids. Indeed, a spoofy street brawl between competing stations’ all-male “news teams” confirms the fatuousness of the film’s central comic premise—TV personalities as juvenile delinquents crazed by hormonal impulses.
Ferrell gets plenty of chances to goof on Burgundy’s near-pathological cluelessness and maintains a certain lack of conviction—apparently in the interests of avoiding satirical thrusts that really sting or, heaven forbid, complicate audience sympathies. Applegate is fetching, but she’s no Reese Witherspoon, and Vince Vaughn’s trash-talking scenes with Ferrell are pretty weak compared with what he did with similar material (and Ben Stiller) in Dodgeball.
Cameos by Stiller, Jack Black and Tim Robbins are unimpressive apart from the latter’s impersonation of a pipe-smoking PBS type. Fred Willard is a welcome presence as the station manager, but for some at least he will also serve as a reminder of how this sort of thing got much more inspired and funny treatment in the old Fernwood 2Nite shows.