That voice! That tie! That hair!
Will Ferrell is the ultimate blow-dried blowhard in the silly, spotty 'Anchorman'
Sloppy, crude, pursuing the most far-flung tangents in hopes of a laugh, "Anchorman" still gave me more stupid giggles than I'd care to admit if I weren't paid to.
The story of a pompous San Diego news anchor named Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his collision with a comely, ambitious rival named Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) during the polyester macho-dolt '70s, it's a "Saturday Night Live" movie in spirit if not deed: star/co-writer Ferrell is an "SNL" vet, director/co-writer Adam McKay was the show's head writer from 1997 through 2001, and series regulars Fred Armisen and Chris Parnell have small roles.
It's also funnier than an "SNL" film deserves to be, while still featuring those flat, bizarrely misconceived passages of humorlessness that are the hallmark of spinouts such as "It's Pat" and "The Ladies Man." There are fewer of those moments here, though, and that, gentle reader, must be called progress.
Ron's a clueless blowhard with sculpted hair -- Ferrell's shifty little eyes have never looked more dazed and confused -- but he lords over the newsroom and his boy's-club coterie: cocky reporter Brian (Paul Rudd), sportscaster Champ (David Koechner), and weatherman Brick (Steve Carell of "The Daily Show"). The appearance of Veronica prompts hubba-hubba hemming and hawing about women in the newsroom ("I've heard their periods attract bears") but Ron is smitten, and once he displays his jazz-flute skills on their first date, she is his. For a while. Then events conspire to put Veronica in the coanchor chair.
There's really not much more to "Anchorman," which proceeds in crassly inspired fits and starts and occasionally ventures far out to left field. Much of the comedy comes from uncredited guest stars showing up as anchormen from rival stations. I won't divulge names, but anyone who saw "Old School" can guess most of them, other than the recent Oscar winner appropriately cast as a PBS newsman. All these ringers converge in a random back-alley rumble sequence in which the anchors and their news teams go at one another with baseball bats. ("Rule No. 1: No touching of the hair or face.") Maybe this explains that "What's the frequency?" thing with Dan Rather.
Other inexplicable detours: an animated love montage for Ron and Veronica (not funny), a subtitled conversation between a small shaggy dog and a grizzly bear (extremely funny), and a bit in which the guys on the news team impulsively break into a four-part harmony version of the 1976 kitsch classic "Afternoon Delight" (so-so funny). The soundtrack overall is a shameless period compendium: "She's Gone," "Treat Her Like a Lady," and -- you know you love it -- Bread's "If."
Applegate's a trooper, and Ferrell's amusing enough, but this is a step back from his commercial triumph with last year's "Elf." Ron's the kind of self-pitying boor the comedian did to death on "SNL" -- characters whose "comedy" came from their bulldozing obnoxiousness rather than any real wit in the writing or playing. Ferrell's timing is superb in "Anchorman," but the material's terribly patchy, and when he goes into overkill mode, you can see some of the blind self-love that has made Mike Myers's career such a shambles.
At least Ferrell and McKay know enough to pack their movie with proven funnymen: all those uncredited rivals, Fred Willard as the station's news director coping with his young son's escalating criminal career, and Carell as Brick the weatherman, who's severely mentally challenged but such a bland empty suit that no one has picked up on it yet. Brick's blithe non sequiturs provide the most reliable belly laughs in "Anchorman," and Carell knocks them out with a finesse that makes his costar seem like -- well, like a fatuous anchorman.
Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com.