Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

I’m having trouble writing a review for “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” because everything I write makes me sound like a quote whore. (You know the quote whores: The critics who heap exaggerated praise on even the worst of movies because they like seeing their names in print.)

“The funniest movie of the year! I laughed from beginning to end! This is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen!” Ugh, I sound awful. But those are my honest feelings, and you should trust me: I never get quoted in ads anyway, so insincere gushing would be pointless.

“Anchorman” now enters the pantheon of my favorite comedies, the movies that make me laugh long, hard and often. It goes into the pile with “Blazing Saddles,” “Airplane!,” “Waiting for Guffman,” “Raising Arizona” and a Marx Bros. film, maybe “Duck Soup.” (By the way, I don’t find “Caddyshack,” “Billy Madison” or “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” particularly amusing, so if those are your personal benchmarks, perhaps I’m the wrong one to listen to.)

Directed by former “Saturday Night Live” scribe Adam McKay and written by him and Will Ferrell, the film is set in the 1970s, when TV anchormen were MEN, manly, brown-suited men with porn-style mustaches and heavy drinking habits. Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, the alpha male in the San Diego local news market. He is sexist, lively at parties, liked by everyone, only 10 percent as smart as he thinks he is, and, though a bad journalist, no worse than anyone else in local news.

He’s head of the KVWN Channel 4 news team, accompanied by cohorts just as immature as he is. There’s Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), the ladies’ man roving reporter who has a cabinet of musky colognes, including one called Sex Panther. Then there’s the sports anchor, Champ King (David Koechner), a redneck in a cowboy hat. Finally, there’s Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), the congenial weatherman who is, we learn, functionally retarded. (I will not bother to quote any of his funny non-sequitur lines here, because there are dozens of them. OK, one: He believes a bear, seen at the zoo, is “a furry tractor.” There.)

The boys’ club is thrown into chaos when a WOMAN — bringer of cooties, object of juvenile-boy affection — named Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is added to the team as a reporter. The men object because they’re sexist, but also because, as grown men in a state of arrested development, they’re terrified of her. Their lusty advances toward her — this was before anyone talked about “sexual harassment” — are transparent and oily, but apparently they work on some women. But not Veronica. She’s smart and liberated.

Ron, however, seems to be legitimately in love with her, and Ferrell’s gift as a comedic actor is take a character as fundamentally slimy as Ron Burgundy and make him LIKABLE. The way he stumbles over his words when he’s around her, his awkwardly worded propositions, even the ill-hidden, um, arousal he experiences in her presence — these are all reminders that he’s essentially just a naughty little boy, not a lecherous, dangerous man. He’s a product of his times, and he’s sincere.

Ron and Veronica begin a relationship, which soon becomes public, and which becomes strained as Veronica rises up in the ranks. One of the film’s great strokes is in Veronica’s character, played with astonishing agility and comedic grace by Christina Applegate. I wrote of her in my review of “The Sweetest Thing” that she “apparently learned a few things about comedy while in the purgatory of ‘Married … with Children,’ for she has flair and timing.” She proves it again here, holding her own amongst the insanely funny group of male leads (which also includes Fred Willard as the news director) as well as Veronica does in her situation.

The film fully LIVES in the ’70s, wearing the decade like a polyester suit. It knows the ’70s are inherently funny, but does not underscore that fact with obvious era-specific jokes. The characters and situations could only have existed then — after the sexual revolution of the ’60s, but before the political correctness of the ’80s — and seeing them played out with such manic, brilliant glee by the cast makes this an exuberantly wacky movie.

Ferrell’s man-child persona, his knack for loopy non-sequiturs (“By the beard of Zeus!” he declares upon first seeing Veronica), his penchant for piling more comedy onto a joke until you think it can’t be any funnier, and then topping it with one more hysterical line — these are the secrets of “Anchorman’s” success. Ferrell, McKay and editor Brent White cut judiciously, never letting a joke get belabored, but letting the best ones roam free for a while, too. This is a masterpiece of comedy, ready to be watched, re-watched, quoted and imitated for years to come.

A (1 hr., 33 min.; PG-13, some mild profanity, one F-word, some vulgarity, some comic violence.)