For those convinced local TV news long ago graduated from parody to self-parody, “Anchorman” nevertheless wrings ample laughs from that milieu and the big-haired 1970s, fast becoming our most-lampooned decade. Although at times pic feels like an extended “Saturday Night Live” sketch from the show’s invariably flabby last half-hour, collaborators Will Ferrell and Adam McKay generate enough inspired lunacy to sail past the arid stretches and provide a welcome splash of breezy, at times jaw-droppingly bizarre summer fun. Given the current appetite for zanier comedies such as “DodgeBall,” the box office forecast should be as sunny as a day in San Diego.
Still a somewhat unlikely figure to sustain a film, “Elf” notwithstanding, Ferrell has seized on a clever concept rife with possibilities — namely, women breaking the glass ceiling in male-dominated TV news during the ’70s — and smartly surrounded himself with a topnotch cast.
Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, San Diego’s reigning anchor god, presented as a more libidinous take on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s” Ted Baxter. Life is good for Ron and his news team — sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner), field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) — one long pool party of booze, broads and sweeps victories.
Then along comes the ambitious Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), invading and eventually upending their perfect little world. Even the newscast’s producer, Ed (the reliable, if predictable, Fred Willard), titters at Veronica behind her back, assigning her inane stories like a cat costume contest.
Despite her protestations about maintaining professional decorum, Veronica and Ron fall for each other. Yet when an unforeseen (and hilarious) event detains Ron, Veronica is forced to fill in for him, inevitably becoming an overnight smash and prompting Ed to install her as co-anchor, much to the chauvinistic chagrin of Ron and his posse.
Former “SNL” head writer Adam McKay makes his feature directing and writing debut (teaming on the script with Ferrell), and they’ve peppered the action with outlandish flights of fancy, from an animated dream sequence to a melee among competing news teams. (The scene allows for several of the film’s uncredited cameos by the likes of Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson, though for the most part they pay off only in a momentary giggle when the actors first appear.)
Not all of the broader shtick works, but some of it proves explosively funny — especially Carell (hilarious on “The Daily Show” but often underutilized elsewhere) as the brain-dead weather dude, who in direct-to-camera asides confesses to having “an IQ of 48,” and Koechner as the sexually conflicted sportscaster.
Ferrell unleashes any number of giddy moments as well, from Burgundy’s absolute insistence on regaling Veronica with bogus facts to his strange ejaculations (“By the beard of Zeus!”), which receive an even fuller airing during the outtakes that accompany the closing credits.
Pic also adds impeccable little touches that capture the period, from an impromptu chorus of “Afternoon Delight” to the moustaches, sideburns and deafeningly loud jackets that only slightly exaggerate the “Eyewitness News” formula of that era. In that sense, “Anchorman” does a better job spoofing the ’70s than many recent TV-inspired knockoffs that have tried as much, tonally resembling a bawdier version of “The Brady Bunch” films more than anything else.
As an aside, a handful of TV news people, including Bill Kurtis and KNBC-TV weatherman Fritz Coleman, are acknowledged in the credits “for their insight into the world of broadcast journalism.” Local TV outlets are already having a ball with “Anchorman,” yet in terms of Burgundy’s dead-behind-the-eyes look while reading off a TelePrompTer, that might be the one group for which all this merriment strikes just a bit too close to home.