Sunday, June 24, 2012

Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy: Very Funny, But Very Average Comedy.

The Good: Funny, DVD bonus features, Generally the acting
The Bad: Somewhat repetitive humor
The Basics: Funny, but often a one-trick pony, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy excels on the acting front more than on the character or plot points.

Some part of me has come to entirely embrace the old axiom that it is easier to get work if you already have it. I come to this acceptance by way of watching more and more movies my wife loves. She is a big fan of films I derisively call "dumb comedies." She doesn't argue; she's looking for light fare full of dick and fart jokes, unburdened by social commentary. She wants foul language, nudity and jokes that are racy and while I have not, traditionally, been a fan of such fare, I have found a few that I enjoy. Largely, the ones that she enjoys are the works that feature Will Ferrell in them. She's a fan and there are a few works by or featuring Ferrell or from his production company that I have come to enjoy.

The latest in the parade of movies my partner has subjected me to is Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. This brings me back to my original premise. Having just seen The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard which is by the same creative team as Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, it is easy to see how the production company makes its friends and sticks with them. The primary cast for the three films is startlingly similar, especially with the troupe surrounding Ferrell. It seems David Koechner and Kathryn Hahn, for example, have comedic talents Ferrell and his team enjoy exploiting. The only problematic aspect of their continued cinematic associations is that they never seem to be asked to do anything other than their initial shtick. Fortunately, Ferrell and his team mix it up by infusing other talent, like Steve Carell and Christina Applegate into their otherwise familiar mix.

In Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, a newscaster in San Diego who is at the top of his game. He wins the nightly ratings battle for the attention of his audience and reports the news with his team, smoking and drinking his way through his sappy deliveries of the nightly news. In the 1970s, Burgundy becomes a legend and his arrogance grows, in part because he is surrounded by sycophants like Champ Kind, Brian Fantana, and weatherman Brick Tamland. But when diversity becomes the word of the day, Burgundy is teamed up with investigative reporter and newscaster Veronica Corningstone.

While Ron works to seduce Veronica, she finds his advances both annoying and charming. When they do hook up, Ron almost immediately violates their privacy by reporting the act. After further incidents which disrespect her, Veronica sets out for revenge. She gets it through Ron's Achilles heel; having Ron swear on air by simply changing his call line on the teleprompter. As Veronica takes over, Ron flounders and his team struggle to get on without him.

Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy is essentially a mock documentary of the life of Ron Burgundy and the humor is derived largely from uncomfortable deadpans and such things as one of the characters (Brick) being mentally retarded and socially awkward. The reversals, like Ron promising Veronica he will not say anything about their sex immediately followed by him telling all of his friends, tend to happen quickly and be very predictable. This is not to say the film isn't funny, but it is a very standard sort of absurdist humor for which Will Ferrell is famous. That said, there's not much surprising here.

Ferrell presents Ron Burgundy as a stiff, strangely formal character whose on-air persona never goes away. As a result, when he tries to interact with friends or with Veronica, there come strange deliveries that seem inappropriate for the setting (imagine having a newscaster on a dinner date who spoke with the same deliveries as they did on-air). Ferrell is adept at the deliveries and he makes Ron Burgundy funny as a result. However, because most of the humor is related directly to either delivering the news or scoring with Veronica, much of the movie seems repetitive.

This is where DVD truly pushes a film up; in the bonus features, where Will Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy for an interview, the result is absolutely hilarious. Ferrell is fearless in his presentation of the parody opposite a serious interviewer and the result is comic gold. Similarly, the outtakes and deleted scenes are very funny.

What Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy does best is lampoon the pretensions of the news industry, especially in the way it attempts to make information entertainment. Things like the repeated joke where Burgundy and his team stride toward the camera and look earnestly at it and one another effectively skewer the way actual news organizations try to blur the lines between disseminating information and keeping an audience hooked with personalities. Of course, the movie is not at all just social commentary, which is made evident by the battle royale that occurs between Ron Burgundy's news crew and those of the competing stations (which is little more than an excuse for cameos by people like Ben Stiller). That scene creates a parody of violence and offsets the predictable and slow moments revolving around the news story of the decade, a pregnant panda at the San Diego zoo.

All of the actors are thoroughly invested in their roles and it is hard to actually criticize the acting here. While Ferrell and Koechner do their usual schtick - they play off one another wonderfully - and Fred Willard plays the station manager pretty much exactly as any fan of his would predict, other performers nail their roles. Steve Carell, for example, establishes his dry wit on the big screen perfectly as Brick. He has a dry delivery that underplays any form of sarcasm and given that this is one of his roles before The Office, it is easy to see how he got that role. He plays Brick as a hapless mentally challenged individual and that works.

But the real standout for acting has to be Christina Applegate. Yes, Christina Applegate, whose fame was predicated on her looks, appears in Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy as Veronica and she is impressive. Veronica is basically the straightman to Ron's absurdity and Applegate plays off Ferrell's over-the-top comic sense with an understated delivery that makes her the perfect foil. More than that, she plays Veronica as incredibly smart and she seems mature and intelligent enough to plausibly be in the place she is. Applegate is a surprise who steals all of her scenes.

This is quite a feat when one considers that much of the movie is spent with the characters staring at the camera delivering lines. When not doing that, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy is simple hoping to grab laughs off the look of the 1970s personas. Ron dresses in a maroon suit and he and his companions have big-70s hair. Those jokes replay less well than the satirical comments on the news industry but they still work.

Largely, though, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy is good, escapist humor that sets out to get some laughs and it does that. It does little more than that, but it works for what it is.

For other works with David Koechner, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Piranha 3DD
Sex Drive
Get Smart
Let’s Go To Prison
Farce Of the Penguins
Thank You For Smoking
The 40 Year Old Virgin
Waiting . . .


For other movie reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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