Movie Review: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

There’s a place in this world for goofy, dippy, mindless comedies. There’s also a place for silly satires of other movies or even making fun of TV shows. And there’s even a place for Saturday Night Live skits to grow and become funny movies (although generally SNL skits are based on one joke, and therefore turn into bad movies.) Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is none of these. Sadly, it is also not very funny. My following review contains heavy plot and joke spoilers, so if you do intend on wasting your time with this dreck, you may want to stop reading now to preserve such humorous moments as the movie will offer you.

Will Ferrell plays San Diego’s top-rated anchorman in the mid-1970’s. His “Action News Team” consists of sports reporter David Koechner, investigative reporter Paul Rudd, and barely-intelligent-enough-to-stand-erect weatherman Steve Carell. Everything is right with Ferrell’s world — he is popular, a big hit with the ladies, and no one around him dares to burst his bubble or otherwise puncture his ego. That is, until news producer Fred Willard rocks Ferrell’s world by announcing that they will be joined on the air by (*gasp*) a woman reporter, played by the lovely Christina Applegate, trying her hardest to channel the spirit of Mary Tyler Moore. She doesn’t pull it off, though, and part of the problem with her efforts is that, unlike other elder stateswomen of comedy, Mary Tyler Moore isn’t dead yet. A few halting attempts at B-plots are inserted but largely forgotten. A series of generally dumb visual gags and unfunny jokes unfurl as Ferrell’s companions sexually harass Appelgate, Ferrell successfully dates her, then they break up, then they snipe andfight at one another, and of course, eventually reconcile.

The funniest scenes could have been expanded upon. For instance, there is a scene at the end of the news broadcast, when the microphones are cut off but the camera remains on the two anchors, who appear to be sitting next to each other discussing the news — they are actually insulting and threatening each other in increasingly vulgar ways, while the camera cuts back and forth between the serious-looking end credits of the news and what is actually happening in the studio. This is funny. Appelgate’s ultimate act of sabotage against Ferrell is also quite funny. Sadly, there is not enough of this sort of thing in the movie.

Instead, we get boner jokes, bizarre phrases (“By Odin’s Raven!”) and unfunny running gags. I think we’re supposed to think that the mens’ mustaches are funny in a mock-the-seventies sort of way, but we’ve seen so many funny mock-the-seventies movies already that writers ought to know that they’ll need to dig deeper than that for a laugh. In particular, it is not funny to see Steve Carrell divorce himself from his smarmy Daily Show persona to play such a complete idiot.

What happened here, I think, is that a bunch of comedy writers got together to write a movie and started working out jokes amongst themselves. After a while, they delve into situational humor, (comedy-writer-ese for “we thought it was funny when we were talking about it” or “it made us laugh and we don’t care if the audience is too dumb to think it’s funny.”) and from there it turned into metacomedy. Metacomedy is the opposite of funny since it is a story about something that is supposed to be funny. But if you deconstruct comedy or any other intense emotion enough, it loses its intensity and therefore stops being funny. There are even references in the script made by the title character to this kind of excessive deconstruction (which critical language theorists would spell as “deconstruction,” if expressing negativity about the act of deconstruction were not fundamentally contradictory to their world view) sapping whatever humor out of a joke there might have been in the first place. So you see, this sort of stuff just isn’t funny.

The outtakes during the end credits were much funnier than the movie itself. Not worth the price of a rental, though, and not even worth putting up with the rest of the movie.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.