Will Ferrell is one of those comedians. Some people "get it." All he has to do is stare poker-faced into the camera, and they start laughing. Others "don't get it," and think he's just trying to be offensive or annoying. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy will do nothing to change that. Farrell's fans will enjoy 91 minutes of what they'll consider uproarious comedy, while others will again be repelled by his brand of buffoonery.

To trace the history of bawdy humor, you'd have to investigate literature as timeworn as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and beyond. Writers as prominent as Shakespeare, Chesterton, and even C.S. Lewis appreciated risqué humor, so long as it was artfully delivered.

It's a dog-eat-dog world for Veronica (Christina Applegate) and (Ron) Will Ferrell

It's a dog-eat-dog world for Veronica (Christina Applegate) and (Ron) Will Ferrell

Television's Saturday Night Live has been a factory of bawdy humor for decades. Most of it has been crass, cheap, and even mean-spirited. But occasionally, it has been sophisticated, and has helped us avoid taking ourselves too seriously. Further, it has sometimes poked fun at things that needed to be laughed at. Dan Akroyd and Steve Martin made a mockery of swinging '70s bachelors with their "wild and crazy guys." Mike Meyers lampooned the inappropriate sexual recklessness of James Bond in his Austin Powers series. And a few years back, Will Ferrell poked fun at brash, libertine sexuality with a series of hot-tubbing skits.

Now that Ferrell's conquering the big screen, he's bringing his own brand of bawdiness with him. Thus, he's sure to offend viewers who don't see the humor in such stuff. And, frankly, he does often dwell on randy humor to an inappropriate degree. But others will reject him merely because they don't think he's funny.

It's my responsibility as a critic to inform you, much of the humor in Anchorman is off-color, sophomoric, and just plain dirty. But, in the name of full disclosure, I must also admit that my funny bone gets clobbered almost every time Ferrell opens his mouth. There's a reason for that—something that sets him apart from other SNL alumni. Ferrell's portrayals are funny because he's exposing commonly idiotic behavior by exaggerating it. Ferrell's characters, from SNL to Elf, have one thing in common—they believe they understand how the world works, but they don't understand it at all. Thus, they are completely unaware of every faux pas they commit. He's not condoning his characters' behavior; he's drawing attention to the lunacy of it. We're not laughing at the expense of those he insults, but at the fact that anyone could be so spectacularly oblivious to their own ego, selfishness, and childishness.

Article continues below
Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) does a bit of touching up before going on-air

Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) does a bit of touching up before going on-air

Further, while other SNL stars tend to wink at the audience and turn in lazy performances, Ferrell completely commits to his characters, investing the same energy in his performance as Oscar-caliber actors give to dramatic roles.

Thus, the character of Ron Burgundy, "legendary anchorman," is perfect for Ferrell. By inhabiting this egomaniacal, idiotic anchorman, he highlights the truth about television news. It's entertainment disguised as information, a show of photogenic faces, glamorous hairstyles, and pleasant voices delivering sound bites of drama, shock value, and sentimentality. "He was like a god," the narrator adoringly intones. "He had a voice that would make a wolverine purr." When Burgundy is groomed for the cameras, he bellows, "Everyone come see how good I look!" And that's funny. He's not aware that he's guilty of more journalistic crimes than Michael Moore. He believes he's an authority, when really he's just photogenic.

Co-written by Ferrell and head SNL writer Adam McKay, Anchorman was inspired by a documentary in which veteran news anchormen reminisce about how upset they became when women made their way into the boys' club newsrooms of the '70s. Burgundy's inappropriate newsroom manner is based on the testimonies of anchors who sipped scotch and smoked right at the news desk. What many viewers will write off as mere political incorrectness was very much a part of the scene and the times.

The ace news team on the job

The ace news team on the job

But Ferrell doesn't dwell on this or try to make the film important. Instead, he uses this rich context as the launching pad for wild departures. While there is, granted, a lot of foul language tossed around in this film, Ferrell's improvisational comedy avoids over-dependence on sucker-punch expletives and barrages us instead with exclamations that are more absurd than offensive: "Knights of Columbus! Great Odin's Raven! By the beard of Zeus!" He relies on the teleprompter to make himself sound intelligent—something that becomes a fatal flaw. But when he's not reading the news, he lacks anything close to eloquence, preferring to express his excitement with things like "That's nice!" and "Neat-o!" His pickup lines and bedroom talk make the whole audience wince in unison.

The flimsy plot—assembled for the convenient sequencing of several SNL-style skits—begins with Burgundy's initial infatuation with a newcomer to the studio, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). His unlikely seduction of Corningstone follows, and then his subsequent outrage at her ascent to the role of co-anchor in what had been until then a man's game. The two engage in outrageous spats, ending in Burgundy's ruinous defeat and banishment from newscasting, and, finally, his return, in which he must choose between a career-capping professional triumph or the heart of the woman he once loved.

Article continues below

Next to his lecherous news team, a surprisingly funny array of sidekicks, Burgundy looks like a saint. Ferrell is restrained enough to let each actor create memorably wacky characters. Their attempts to woo Corningstone and the tantrums they throw when they fail only emphasize their immaturity. Behind their camera-ready facades, they're spoiled brats and playground bullies, prone to crying when they don't get their way. Brian Fontana (Paul Rudd) is a sex-crazed reporter who tries to impress the ladies with a cologne that "contains pieces of real panther." Champ Kind (David Koechner), the cowboy sports reporter, adores his anchorman a little too much. Brick Talmand (Steve Carell) is a scene-stealing weatherman who's always a step or two behind his brainless cohorts.

Will Ferrell plays an egotistical TV anchorman

Will Ferrell plays an egotistical TV anchorman

Like the summer's other big comedy Dodgeball, Anchorman shows an inspired talent for surprise appearances. Burgundy and the boys face off with Wes Mantooth (Dodgeball's Vince Vaughn) in a scene that could be called Gangs of San Diego, and the scene escalates into an enormous, frenzied brawl that features more than one celebrity cameo.

Trying to keep this crew under control, news producer Ed Harken (Fred Willard, in another winning supporting role) is often sidetracked by telephone calls reporting the disastrous exploits of his offspring. In one of many playful references to '70s naiveté, he confesses that his youngest boy is "on something called acid." When he appeals to his crew to appreciate "diversity," Burgundy guesses that the word is a reference to a Civil War-era ship.

Applegate's Corningstone is the cookie-cutter women's-lib champion, storming her way into the spotlight. "Ladies can do things now," Burgundy is told in what seems to him a profound revelation, "and you're going to have to deal with it." Applegate was a good sport to play "straight man" to Ferrell's insults and disgusting compliments, and even throws herself into some newsroom smackdown. At times, it seems like she's struggling to keep a straight face while Ferrell shouts whatever wild notions come into his head. (Attention, blooper fans: The end-credits run alongside a variety of goof-ups and losses of composure, and there's an outtake pinned to the very end of the last reel.)

Article continues below

Everything leads to a preposterous finale set in a zoo. For those who have surrendered to Ferrell's inanity, it may be the pinnacle of the film; others may give up entirely and head for the door. (One of my colleagues gave up on it and walked out long before that.)

Anchorman does indeed require a heavy caution to viewers: there is a great deal of innuendo-heavy dialogue and frequent genital-oriented punchlines. It's not as objectionable as Old School, and compared to Dodgeball it looks like high art. But anyone expecting the safe, PG-quality humor of Elf may be offended by this bawdy brouhaha. Parents, take note: The film includes much that is inappropriate for young viewers, including a moment when Burgundy unwittingly utters the same "colorful" term recently defended by Vice President Dick Cheney. (Republicans, beware: The Bush administration is the butt of the joke that won the evening's biggest laugh at the Seattle screening I attended.)

Another Seattle film critic mentioned to me that she thinks most of Anchorman's best jokes were done better by Ted Baxter, the anchorman on the '70s television series The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I suspect she's right. But Anchorman is not as much about news as it is about the chance to unleash Ferrell's irrepressibly zany personality. More than his famous Elf or the comedies in which he's been a scene-stealing supporting player (Starsky and Hutch, Old School, Zoolander, Austin Powers), Anchorman establishes him as a formidable comic force reminiscent of Steve Martin when he was The Jerk or Chevy Chase when he was Fletch. We can hope that Ferrell will discover he does not need the locker-room humor to make us laugh. It is precisely in his departures from this that he finds his most inspired moments. Until then, though, we have this mix of genuine comic bravado and sophomoric punchlines.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Is chauvinism still evident on television today?

  2. In what ways do news reporters today craft their work to serve as entertainment? What is it that sets apart journalism of integrity from sensationalized news coverage?

  3. Is Anchorman condoning bad behavior with its comedy, offering a critique of misbehavior, or merely exploiting bad behavior for laughs?

  4. Do any of the outrageous behaviors onscreen remind us of real weaknesses in our celebrity role models … or even in ourselves?

Article continues below
  1. What do you think of the way the men treat the women in the film? Is there anyone admirable in this story, or even a glimmer of virtue?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Anchorman should be off-limits to young viewers, and grownup viewers should be cautioned that the film contains harsh language, a great deal of sexual innuendo and genital-related sight gags, a jarring act of violence against an animal (played in the most cartoonish fashion), and comical Monty Python-esque violence between news anchors.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 07/15/04

There's a reason for Will Ferrell's rising stardom—something that sets him apart from other Saturday Night Live alumni. Ferrell has a knack for portraying buffoons who are oblivious to their own ego and stupidity. Contrary to the tendency of his colleagues to try and make us laugh with cheap, locker-room humor, Ferrell gets us to laugh by drawing attention to the inanity of people who are blind to their own bad behavior—which sometimes includes the use of cheap, locker-room humor. From SNL to Elf, Ferrell's fools have one thing in common—they believe they understand how the world works, but they don't understand it at all. Thus, they are completely unaware of every faux pas they commit. We're not laughing at the expense of those he insults, but at the fact that anyone could be so spectacularly oblivious to their own childishness. That is, if indeed we're laughing at all.

Ferrell's new comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, includes a lot of crass behavior, some harsh language, inappropriate sexual behavior, and absurd comic violence that will likely offend many. Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, a legendary, egomaniacal, idiotic anchorman who "had a voice that would make a wolverine purr." Burgundy is guilty of more journalistic crimes than Michael Moore. And yet, while his success relies on being photogenic, he still believes he's an authority on everything. Thus, when he is joined on camera by a female co-anchor (Christina Applegate), his whole chauvinistic world is threatened, and television news is changed forever.

My full review is at Christianity Today Movies. And it appears I'm the only religious press critic who found anything worthwhile in this absurd, exaggerated comedy.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "Ferrell milks his pompous, chauvinistic character for all it is worth but the comedy teat quickly runs dry. Inconsistent and ultimately uninteresting, Ron Burgundy is not a character upon which to hang a film. Anchorman has about as many laughs as an SNL sketch. Unfortunately the movie lasts fifteen times longer and there's just not enough humor to fill the empty spaces."

Article continues below

Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) quotes Ferrell as saying, "We are not glorifying male chauvinists, we are making fun of them." And then Holz responds: "I question whether [Burgundy's] character development is adequate to offset the onslaught of coarse humor and misogynistic themes—let alone the pervasive profanity, alcohol abuse, smoking and violence. Anchorman is merely the latest in a long string of hugely disappointing films from funnymen who would serve their young fans better if they pulled their minds and their scripts out of the gutter."

Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) says, "It's supposed to be a parody, of course, but somehow, the few references to '70s culture get lost amid the muck of sex jokes that are too inappropriate to even allude to."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) writes, "To its credit, the movie mocks the sexist attitudes that prevailed when women first sought equal status as on-air TV reporters and co-anchors. But satire succeeds when it's sharp, not insipid, and Anchorman is weighed down by its sheer silliness."

Some mainstream critics find more to laugh about in Anchorman, but audiences remain split.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for sexual humor, language and comic violence)
Directed By
Adam McKay
Run Time
1 hour 34 minutes
Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell
Theatre Release
July 09, 2004 by DreamWorks Pictures
Browse All Movie Reviews By: