Wednesday 18 December 2013

From the archive: "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"

These are good times for American comedy, and if Anchorman - the latest vehicle for Will Ferrell, the 21st century's Chevy Chase - isn't quite up there on a par with Dodgeball or Stuck on You, that's only an acknowledgement of just how high the bar has been set of late. Hard-drinking, smoking and womanising Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) is a stalwart of 70s local news, considering himself to be lord of the tiny part of San Diego he broadcasts to, when he's not out carousing with a parade of superlatively sleazy colleagues (Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell) in terrible leisurewear. But Burgundy's eye is soon taken off the autocue, with the arrival of strident, ambitious female rival Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate, never quite shrugging off the poor-man's-Aniston tag).

A fun game to play during any entry in this comedy new wave is to try and guess exactly from where every bit of funny stuff derives: was it in the original script? Was it arrived at during rehearsal? Or, given such loose-limbed, improv-friendly performers, did it only happen once the cameras rolled, creasing up the gathered technicians? Anchorman suffers a little in the gags-per-minute stake for being released so soon after the relentless if scattershot Dodgeball, but what jokes there are - the reporters roaming the streets in armed gangs ("Back off, evening news team!"), Burgundy and Corningstone's deskbound bickering ("You're a smelly pirate hooker!") - certainly classify as funny.

The better gags, however, are - rather like Dodgeball's inexplicable pirate character - examples of truly leftfield comic thinking: consider, for a moment, the last-reel reconciliation achieved by a dog and a bear, or the decision to splice an outtake from Smokey and the Bandit 2 into the end credits. The supporting players and surprise cameos are more than up to scratch, and if the centre forms a less astute takedown of this particular media species than Half Man Half Biscuit's "Bob Wilson Anchorman", this Anchorman is, at the very least, a better fit for Ferrell's evolving screen persona than the somewhat icky man-child who found himself positioned at the heart of last year's Elf.

(September 2004)

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is available on DVD through Paramount Home Entertainment; a sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, opens in cinemas nationwide today, and is reviewed here.

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