The root of Will Ferrell’s humor lies in his ability to play insanely buffoonish characters with such straight-faced conviction that he comes across as wholly oblivious to his own idiocy. That comedic m.o. reaches its apex with Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, a ridiculously moronic but frequently riotous ode to ’70s local TV news, workplace diversity, and stupendously inane non-sequiturs. In “an age when only men were allowed to read the news,” Ferrell is the titular anchorman Ron Burgundy, a San Diego icon whose sign-off catch phrase “You stay classy, San Diego” embodies the shallow stupidity of Burgundy’s man’s man persona. Written by Ferrell and director Adam McKay, Anchorman relishes the opportunity to ironically regard the portly, slightly vacant-looking star as dashingly handsome, with Ferrell referring to his flabby arms as “guns” and peripheral characters repeatedly complimenting him on his ordinary haircut.
Burgundy’s deranged confidence in the face of his undeniable absurdity, as well as his penchant for screaming everything that comes to mind with Tourette’s-like abandon, lends irresistible lunacy to bits involving Burgundy playing Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” on the jazz flute or explaining how love feels by bursting into an a cappella version of Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight.” Ron and his news team buddies—womanizing investigative reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), closeted homosexual sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), and self-described “mentally retarded” weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell)—form a chauvinistic boys club, but their testosterone-fueled Shangri-la is rocked by the arrival of career-driven woman reporter Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). The men can’t envision a world in which women are more than subservient sex toys, yet Burgundy’s rivalry with Corningstone, who dreams of one day becoming a national network anchor, is complicated by his budding love for this fetching—and, unlike himself, competent—female journalist.
Though it sweetly preaches acceptance and equality, McKay’s scattershot comedy is primarily founded on the premise that there’s nothing funnier than dialogue strewn with ludicrously illogical lines, such as Burgundy, grief stricken over the sudden murder of his beloved Spanish-speaking dog Baxter (who he refers to as “a miniature Buddha covered in hair”), screaming to his friend from a phone booth, “I’m in a glass case of emotion!” Ron thinks diversity is “an old, old wooden ship,” Carell’s brain-dead Brick randomly exclaims about women “I read somewhere that their menstruation attracts bears!” and Burgundy’s vain crew engages in a weapon-filled rumble with Vince Vaughn’s competing, second-rated local broadcast team in which the only rule is “No touching of the hair or face.” Anchorman’s satiric skewering of the era’s fashion, cheeky optimism, and sexism occasionally grows a bit stale, but it’s difficult to resist embracing the rampaging madman energy of a film that visualizes sex as akin to riding cartoon unicorns on rainbows and features a hero who believes that the name San Diego, derived from German, means “whale’s vagina.”