Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004)

Starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate and Paul Rudd
Written by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
Directed by Adam McKay

I have to admit, I avoided "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" for a long time.  A lot like what happened to me recently with "The Producers," so many people told me that it was utterly, totally hilarious that I knew that as soon as I saw it, it could never live up to that reputation.  Eventually I did see it, and I liked it quite a bit.  But since then, it's actually taken several viewings before I realized that it has actually grown on me even more.  It's combination of blunt, obvious humor and almost surreal absurdity is a winning one.

Set in 1970s San Diego, Will Ferrell stars as Ron Burgundy, the #1 nightly news anchor in town.  Along with his news team and best friends, sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell) he practically owns San Diego.  Their lives are filled with debauchery, drinking, sex, and all kinds of lunacy that comes with their level of celebrity.  But one day, when the station hires a female reporter, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) their world is turned upside down.  The group is immediately opposed to a female coming into what they see as a man's world, and are threatened by her even more when it turns out that Veronica is actually quite tenacious and talented.

While Champ, Brian and Brick are content with sexually harassing Veronica, Ron actually finds himself falling for her.  The two quickly enter into a relationship, but can't make it work since Ron simply can't stand the fact that Veronica is trying to get in on his territory at the 6 o'clock news.  The two begin to attempt to one-up and sabotage each other, their love turning into bitterness.  Meanwhile, Ron must also contend with the fact that his friends feel abandoned by him, and threats from rival news teams who can smell Ron's downfall coming, like vultures.

"Anchorman" is a bizarre sort of movie.  The humor is blunt, mostly consisting of people announcing in loud voices exactly what they're thinking or feeling.  You'd think that this would be just awful, and yet, in the hands of Ferrell and his cohorts, it's downright hilarious.  Thankfully, there are also lots of other bits that keep that staple of the film from feeling stale after a while. 

The film is punctuated by a few truly absurd scenes that come out of nowhere, but totally seem to fit within Ron Burgundy's world.  Ron plays jazz flute on his date with Veronica at a local club, eventually using it as a flamethrower.  A bizarre animated sequence that stands in for Ron and Veronica having sex is a riot.  The two are seen riding on animated horses and come across a rainbow, which prompts Veronica to demand to Ron, "Do me on it!"  And the movie's most inspired sequence is a massive brawl between the city's various news teams which is bloody and totally ridiculous.  The characters somehow find themselves armed with ridiculous weaponry, and even an homage to the original "Planet of the Apes."

It's this sort of rhythmic weaving in and out of period reality and total lunacy fits "Anchorman" quite well.  The characters are much the same.  Though each of them is a talented news reporter, their personalities are utterly ridiculous.  Ron is egotistical in a way that makes the most confident people look timid.  "I'm kind of a big deal," he says to Veronica when they first meet, and he can't fathom the idea that she doesn't know who he is.  Steve Carrell gets some of the funniest moments in the entire movie as the semi-retarded Brick, who never seems to quite understand what's going on around him.  One wonders how he managed to become a meteorologist when he's so stupid.  During the news team brawl, it's Brick that gets the best kills, at first pulling out a hand grenade ("Where did you get that hand grenade?" Ron asks.  "I don't know," Brick replies, totally innocently) and then kills a man on horseback with a trident.

Christina Applegate manages to hold her own in this boy's club.  She's mostly very grounded, but totally capable of getting into the game when it counts.  The film also includes what must be some kind of world record for cameo appearances by other actors and comedians.  Vince Vaughn, Tim Robbins, Luke Wilson, Chris Parnell, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Seth Rogan  and even Danny Trejo appear, with more sprinkled throughout.

Director Adam McKay also does a wonderful job creating the world of the 1970s.  The costumes, sets and locations all look great.  It's a world that feels believable, despite all the ridiculousness going on.  Kudos on that, since it only helps heighten the entire vibe.  On blu-ray, the whole thing looks great.  Skin and clothing textures are great, colors are vibrant and rich.  The whole thing has lots of detail to take in, which makes "Anchorman" rather visually appealing for a comedy.  A lot of times, you get comedies that are very simple in their visual construction, poorly lit or blandly shot.  "Anchorman" is not one of them.  It looks like a real movie, if that makes sense.

Also of note is the fact that there's something like two and a half hours of deleted scenes.  So many, in fact, that the second disc of the blu-ray actually contains an entire second movie, constructed entirely out of cut subplots and deleted scenes and alternate takes.  It's obvious from watching even just a little bit of this footage how much off-the-cuff riffing the cast was doing while filming "Anchorman."  Part of me wonders if they had a script or just a list of scene ideas strung together into a short plot outline, and just went to work for all those weeks of shooting and just did whatever they felt like while the cameras were rolling... and then eventually just randomly selected what they thought was the funniest stuff and called at a movie.  Ferrell even filmed a lengthy and complete funeral sermon for Ron's dog, Baxter, which he believes is dead after being punted off a bridge by Jack Black's infuriated motorcycle rider.

"Anchorman" is tons of fun.  It's become an instant quote classic amongst the younger crowd, and began what might be it's own sort of genre now that Ferrell and McKay have teamed up several more times with films like "Talladega Nights," "Step Brothers" and "The Other Guys."  The style and tone set in "Anchorman" follows through in those other films, and they're all constantly compared to each other.