Friday, July 9, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Anchorman" plays like a small-screen rerun

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

With Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Fred Willard. Directed by Adam McKay, from a screenplay by Ferrell and McKay. 91 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual humor, language and comic violence. Several theaters.

The key to "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," a sketchy film in every sense of the word, can be found in a small but crucial role played by a worried-looking little dog named Baxter. It's not that he does much — the pooch whimpers, wears an orthodontic device, saves his master from a dreadful fate; basic doggie stuff — but his name resonates. It's a hint that the filmmakers just might be aware that nearly every funny bit in their movie has been done before — by airhead anchorman Ted Baxter, played by Ted Knight in the '70s TV series "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

The parallels between Ted Baxter and Ron Burgundy (played by Will Ferrell, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Adam McKay) are many. Both anchor local news shows and dream of network fame; both have the brain power of a carpenter ant; both fancy themselves as ladies' men, with their poufy hair, white shoes and shiny plaid jackets; both have an inflated opinion of their own talents. And both will, without hesitation, read aloud on the air whatever script is given to them, however inappropriate — they lack the ability to self-edit. (Burgundy's San Diego station is well-heeled enough to have a TelePrompTer; Baxter's Minneapolis studio had to make do with cardboard cue cards.)

So, the under-30 target audience of "Anchorman" should know that there's nothing remotely original here, and while the film is sporadically funny, it was done much better on the small screen, decades ago. And the story here is barely enough to fill the "Saturday Night Live" sketch that this movie resembles. Burgundy, along with his news team — reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), the dimmest bulb in this already twilit box — are appalled when a woman newscaster, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), joins them.

There's the grain of a decent idea here, and it's a bit funny to watch the guys alternating between shameless pickup techniques (one involving the application of a cologne called "Sex Panther") and sophomoric jokes, such as trying to make their new colleague crack up on the air by making silly faces at her. (The ever-professional Veronica, played with cool precision by Applegate, barely raises an eyebrow.) But that's all the movie is, and eventually it just becomes shameless and sophomoric, without the laughs.

Ferrell, who's one of those love-him-or-hate-him performers, gives a performance that feels mostly improvised, waggling his blocky mustache and talking in funny voices. He has a kind of blank, regular-guy quality that suited his innocent role in "Elf" but fits less well here; Ron's a dork without depth, and you quickly get tired of him. Fred Willard, blustering agreeably as the station manager, might have been a better fit for the lead role — picture a slightly hipper variant on Willard's agreeably asinine dog-show announcer in "Best in Show."

And a gaggle of Very Famous Comic Actors turn up in unbilled — and underwhelming — cameo roles, presumably to demonstrate that they have plenty of time on their hands. (I won't name them; the movie's got few enough surprises.)

Fans of Ferrell's style of comedy will likely have a decent time here, if they crunch their popcorn loud enough to drown out the screenplay. Others will go home with fond thoughts of Ted Baxter, realizing that everything old doesn't have to be new again.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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