Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:
minor plot points revealed!
I am so glad that I didn't pay to see Anchorman. What looked mildly amusing in the previews proved to be a totally boring, thrown together chunk of improv that was reminiscent of the crappy skits seen during the last half hour of Saturday Night Live each week. I went in with, what could only be called, staggeringly low expectations and was still somehow disappointed. I was actually embarrassed for the film makers.
The only reason that I didn't rate this movie one star is because I hate Will Ferrell so much. Other people, as seen in the reviews above, love Will Ferrell and he seems to be one of the "it" guys for comedy right now. I don't understand his popularity at all. Besides doing a good "stupid" George Bush impression on SNL and a mildly amusing cameo in Starsky & Hutch, I have disliked everything else he has done over his entire career. See my Elf review for further explanation. I equate his comedy style to shooting a bunny with a machine gun. He'll fire off 100 jokes and a few will hit and kill but the rest all miss completely.
Unlike Elf, Anchorman had the benefit of being something of an ensemble picture. It still could have succeeded as a comedy if only someone would have taken the time to write some good material for the cast as opposed to just rolling film and letting the actors improvise a series of disconnected vignettes that would later be edited together into a movie.
The story starts at the height of 70's local news bravado. This was before cable and 24 hour news channels and the internet made local news almost irrelevant. There was a time, and I remember it, when people actually did get most of their news from their local broadcast. This was also on the cusp of the women's movement which brought women into the anchor positions that they now dominate. At Channel 4, the number one news team in San Diego has just hired it's first female reporter and the men are not happy about it. That's enough of the synopsis. You've seen it in the previews and I don't want to accidentally encourage you to go see the film.
I think the thing that upset me the most about this movie was the promise that it held and how it so terribly and amazingly missed each and every opportunity to exploit it's premise. There are funny moments in the film. As they say, 'a broken clock is right at least two times a day'. My favorite scenes in the film were the ones that involved cameo's by other 'funnier' actors playing rival news teams. The major rival to the news 4 team is Vince Vaughn as anchor Wes Mantooth. He is probably the funniest thing about the movie. In fact there is a scene where all the anchor teams in town meet for a rumble that, although obviously thrown together like the rest of the film, works because of strong cameo performances from: Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins, and Luke Wilson.
Jack Black also has an uncredited cameo that could have been funny but ends up being a appalling horrific scene of animal abuse that will be funny only to young boys on the path toward becoming serial killers.
The main cast have been great in past non-Anchorman roles but all suck to the nth degree in this film. Will Ferrell is the least funny of them all and this is quite an accomplishment when compared to the weak performances of his co-stars. Christina Applegate plays the new female anchor Veronica Corningstone. (I have to admit that the little drinking party where writers Ferrell and Adam McKay came up with the anchor names must have been fun.) Unfortunately even in a comedy as muddled as this, her character's actions make no sense. One moment she's a strong professional the next she's in bed with Ferrell's idiot man-child. It would be funnier if she would have chosen a character and stuck to it. Paul Rudd and David Koechner play on the street reporter Brian Fantana and Sports anchor Champ Kind. These characters could have provided a wealth of comic relief but instead wait to take their cues from Ferrell. Daily Show alumni Steve Carell plays weatherman Brick Tamland who we learn early on is literally retarded. This too could have been funny but is never really exploited. And finally Fred Willard is given license to extemporize his entire character as News 4 Station manager Ed Harken. It really makes you appreciate the editing that Christopher Guest must do to make him funny in movies like A Mighty Wind and Best in Show. Left to his own devices Willard just sucks like everyone else in the cast.
The best example of why I hated this movie is as follows: There is a joke early on where the news team reports on the birth of a panda or something at the zoo. This was funny because it's one of those inane local news stories that we are all familiar with. Later the "Panda Story" is riffed on again during a meeting where the station manager explains the importance of full coverage for the breaking news event. The running joke has lost steam now but is still kinda funny. Then they show a "Countdown to Panda Birth" a little later during one of the news casts. At this point the joke is stale and has not only lost it's appeal but the constant reminder of it makes you wonder if it was really that funny to begin with. Then they reference it a few more times. Now it's become a depressing citation that you can't believe they are still trying to squeeze comedy from. And finally, after the joke has been completely beat to death, they walk up and blow it's head off with a bazooka by using the Panda birth as the big finale of the film. Springfield news anchor Kent Brockman on The Simpsons would have mentioned the ridiculous story once and then moved on. And that's the difference between comedy and Anchorman.
OK, that's all for this one. I hated it and that's all I have to say.