ANCHORMAN is a film without a reason to exist. Sure, there are one or two moments that are genuinely funny, but when co-star Steve Carell steals the film out from under the higher-billed Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, and star Will Ferrell, you know that theres a problem. Its a badly paced, unevenly written and ill-advised homage to Ferrells concept of what he thinks makes him funny. He doesnt have a clear handle on this, unfortunately. But he can do this because he co-scripted it with Adam McKay. McKay also directed, and he apparently rolled over and played dead whenever Ferrell was in front of the camera, letting him burn up as much film as he wanted being unfunny and then using way too much of it in the final edit. Hence the pacing problem.
The story is set in the seventies, so that the film can have everyone smoke and to take advantage of the ferociously awful mix of patterns and polyesters that people wore back then in the mistaken belief that they looked good in them. Its also so that the premise of the film has a chance of making sense. Farrell is Ron Burgundy, the dim-witted yet number one anchorman in San Diego, assisted his equally dim-witted crew, hunky field reporter Brian Fantana (Rudd), bombastic sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner) and nebbishy weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell). Into this all-male bastion waltzes the beautiful and smart Veronica Corningstone (Applegate), the new reporter gunning to be the first female anchor anywhere. Oh so many ways to go with something witty, sharp, or just plain fun. The filmmakers decided against all that and instead went with pointless, dull, obvious, and sophomoric, as in Burgundy asking Veronica for a date while sporting an erection to the bemusement of everyone else in the newsroom. Burgundy is a more hormonal version of Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore show from the actual 1970s. Unfortunately, Burgundy isnt as funny. Ferrell, who was so wonderful with the loopy innocence he brought to ELF, has here tried to inject that same innocence with a healthy dose of sex and the result falls flat and not a little creepy. Applegate is given nowhere to go beyond the spunky gal with stars in her eyes and mean right hook. Her characters job is to be the foil for the testosterone-driven hi-jinks of Ron and his crew. Its not much of a job. Rudd never quite makes it past the massive lamb-chop sideburns and one-note tomcat-without-a-clue jokes, not unlike Koechner, trapped beneath a 10-gallon hat and the catch-word whammy that never comes close to making sense in any context. Then theres Carell, bespectacled and slick-haired in a world of blow-dried excesses, who takes the deadpan, childlike delivery of someone who enjoys ice cream and slacks and puts a slightly psychotic spin on it. Literally anything this guy says gets a laugh, though that could be the desperation to find something really funny talking. Then again, when he declares his undying love for a lamp, or explains that he has had to cancel his celebrity gold tournament because there were too many casualties, there is the spark of mad genius that makes me wonder what a film about just him might have been like.
The film veers without a rudder from attempts at gentle sweetness, wild-eyed farce, and satire that fails to hit any mark, much less make a salient observation. What to make of the guys breaking into a spontaneous, four-part harmony with Afternoon Delight, a bit that, like so many others, goes on much too long. Or sudden break for animation as Ron takes Veronica to something called Pleasure Land. Id rather not say anymore. One of the things that does work is a running joke about how the all the San Diego television news teams go everywhere together, just like those annoying promos would have the public believe. The twist is that they also engage in gangbanging turf wars that can escalate into something that Sam Peckinpaw would have enjoyed. The PBS gangs battle cry is No commercials, no mercy. If only the film could have hit that note consistently.
ANCHORMAN is a film that makes you leave the theater shaking your head and wanting your money back. Its also a disappointment to discover that Will Ferrell, who can be nothing short of hilarious, isnt a sure bet anymore.