Set in '70s-era San Diego, the film centers on Ron Burgundy (Ferrell), a hopelessly narcissistic, wantonly chauvinistic anchorman basking in the limelight of his limited local celebrity. As the head honcho of an all-male news team that includes redneck sports anchor Champ Kind (David Koechner), hipster field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and dumb-as-dirt weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) as well as producers Ed Harken (Fred Willard) and Garth Holliday (Chris Parnell), Burgundy is literally the center of his own small universe. Leave it to the network, then, to upend that universe in the interest of "diversity," a newfangled concept that obliges the old San Diego boys club to accept a woman, of all things, into their midst. Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is everything that Burgundy and the lads are not--smart, sophisticated, quick-witted and qualified for the job. She's the kind of ambitious gal Burgundy would normally despise if he weren't so smitten by her "hiney." But smitten he is, and determined to win her heart, no matter the effort.
The film's beats from here on out are fairly routine--the usual "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back" template with little variation. Not that it much matters--co-writers Ferrell and McKay seem far less interested in story than gags, using the narrative as a framework on which to hang the kind of extreme silliness the parameters of "Saturday Night Live" never afforded them. It's not at all clear whether audiences will embrace these extremes--rife with bizarre non-sequiturs, extensive improvisation and some fairly twisted detours, the picture spends most of its time way out in left field, wackiness trumping satire at every opportunity. On the other hand, the generic nature of most current film comedy gives "Anchorman" a comparative freshness to which audiences may very well respond. In the end, it really hinges on Ferrell's burgeoning star power and the contributions of his scene-stealing supporting cast. With acclaimed work on "The Daily Show" and "Bruce Almighty," Carell has forged something of a career playing offbeat newsmen, but his barely-conscious Tamland represents a new comedic zenith that claims several of the film's biggest laughs. Applegate, always an accomplished comedienne, is here mostly relegated to straight lines, though it's her seemingly superhuman ability to maintain a straight face throughout that impresses most. Starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Fred Willard and Chris Parnell. Directed by Adam McKay. Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay. Produced by Judd Apatow. A DreamWorks release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual humor, language and comic violence. Running time: 94 min