-By Daniel Eagan

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An amiable spoof of 1970s news programs, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy tackles broad targets with enthusiasm and affection. Expert when poking fun at the fashion woes of the '70s, the filmmakers are much less adept at getting an actual story across. But in what's turned out to be a poor season for comedies, Anchorman at least has a good-natured attitude to go along with its hit-or-miss jokes. And Will Ferrell's willingness to humiliate himself for a laugh should count for something at the box office.

Ferrell plays San Diego news anchor Ron Burgundy as a self-centered blowhard who doesn't realize how lucky he has it. His life a round of parties and malapropisms, Burgundy has convinced himself that he's an expert on everything--especially women. His news team includes hilariously clueless weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), sexually confused sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), and lecherous reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd).

Burgundy's life is thrown into disarray when he meets Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), a beautiful blonde hired to bring diversity to the news staff. Burgundy's frenzied courtship of Veronica provides some fairly staid but still funny comic bits. When her ambition to be an anchor herself becomes evident--ultimately leading to Burgundy's firing--the jokes become a bit sharper.

Still, Anchorman suffers from many of the problems it's supposedly mocking. Clayton Hartley's production design and Debra McGuire's costumes are hilarious, and the soundtrack (including an a cappella rendering of 'Afternoon Delight') is impeccable. But the script (by Ferrell and first-time director Adam McKay) is too soft to raise any hackles or score any real points. Their jokes rarely get beyond "look at the funny clothes"--they aren't tied very tightly to the culture of the period, or even to the plot, which veers into tangents at every chance. At times, it feels as if Anchorman may have been more fun to make than to watch.

On the other hand, some of the digressions are priceless, especially a gangland rumble with Burgundy's rival news teams. Carell's blank expression when delivering non sequiturs and the glazed look on Fred Willard's face as his news producer copes with another Burgundy-inspired disaster deliver as many laughs as the several cameos from Ferrell's Old School buddies and others. And Ferrell is perfecting a childish, naive comic persona that's both refreshing and appealing. More often than not in Anchorman, it's effective as well.

--Daniel Eagan

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