Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Reel To Reel:

How It Rates: **
Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Language, Copious Sex Jokes, Comic-Book Violence

Preconceived Notions: A movie making fun of 70's TV news is long overdue
The Bottom Line: Of all the things they could've made fun of, why do they keep coming back to sex?

Anchorman is one of those movies where a fabulous concept gets wasted in its efforts to be funny. Having worked in TV newsrooms for more than ten years, I could tell you stories much funnier than about half the jokes in this film, which range from genuinely funny to just plain stupid. The whole film feels like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch, which probably fits Ferrell fine, but doesn't seem to fit anybody else.

Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, the #1 anchor at the #1 station in San Diego during the 1970's. (My brother, who lives in San Diego, once told me he wished I could come there to produce newscasts because "the news here sucks." And he was talking in 2001.) Burgundy is one of those anchorpeople with good hair who tells viewers everything about the world around them without knowing anything about it. He is merely a mouthpiece for the teleprompter. You write it, he reads it. That's after warming up with voice exercises we hear in the opening credits. His delivery is stiff and deadly authoritative, just like Ted Baxter or Jim Dial of Murphy Brown.

Burgundy's on-air comrades consist of a cowboy sportscaster, a manic field reporter, and a dimwit weathercaster who is light years away from an AMS seal. All of them share one thing: a lust for living and a chauvenistic lust for ladies. Just keep them out the workplace.

Enter Veronica Corningstone (Applegate), a woman reporter hired by the station solely to promote "diversity," something Ron thinks is a ship from somewhere in history. Corningstone is no token skirt. She wants to work, lives for hard news, cringes at the fluff she's assigned, and wants to get to the network as an anchor -- which means she's a major threat to the newsroom's oinking of Burgundy and company. But not before Ron and Veronica make love, not news.

Anchorman's setting is rife with comic potential -- a battle of the sexes in the women's-lib 1970's when female faces were making progress in local TV news but were bumping up against the boys' clubs. (It would come to a head in the early 1980's, when Christine Craft would sue KMBC in Kansas City after she was demoted off the anchor desk.) Instead, Anchorman goes the direction of a sitcomish sex-comedy, looking for cheap and goofy laughs instead of inspired ones. A few moments are genuinely funny, such as Corningstone and Burgundy trading insults with smiles as the newscast's credits roll (remember when local newscasts had credits?), mics closed and out of viewers' earshot.

But the film ignores or glosses over so much cheese and nostalgia of local TV news from the 70's: the "mini-cam" units, the magnetic stick-on weather maps, the awful chroma-key windows where slides and live shots would be projected from behind, the 8 millimeter film cameras, and the clunky typewriters (even though Ron gets clocked with one). Anchorman doesn't feel particularly fresh, just hormonal. Less testosterone would've helped.

Ferrell consulted with Philadelphia anchor legend Larry Kane prior to filming. I wish he could've doctored this script, too.

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