Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

This script says it’s a first draft and, my friends, this is truly a first draft. It feels more like something you’d jot down on a cocktail napkin. With a storyline that clumsily jumps around like a live wire, with multiple ideas that go nowhere thrown against the wall to see if they’ll stick, and with punctuation and spelling so atrocious it looks like the writers got drunk and slammed their heads into the keyboard, this script has the feel of something written in a bout of hysteria. Though, somewhat amazingly, from the trailer and clips I’ve seen, most of this script remains intact.

Will Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, a much-beloved local anchor in ‘70s San Diego. When this guy is on the air, everyone rushes inside to watch. The streets are empty. His Action News team includes Champ Kind, sportscaster, whose catchphrase is “Whammy!,” Brick Tamland, the weatherman, Marshall Connors, consumer reporter, and Brian Fantana, their man in the street. With their ugly suits and hair-sprayed ‘dos, these guys are local rock stars. The women drool, the men are envious, and they rule the town. McKay and Ferrell have a ball showing what twisted, vice-addled, fatuous malcontents the people in the news business are. They are like a roving therapy session. Their lives burdened by problems their egomaniacal, empty minds are not swift enough to see the importance of.

Things are shaken up when the beautiful Veronica Corningstone arrives. Smart and ambitious, she’s also the only news member who has a clue what the hell she’s doing. Her appearance, while inspiring the lust of every male there, also challenges their contemptuous view that women have no place in their world (other than to flirt with and grab coffee).

After every guy strikes out with her, Ron finds his way in and somehow — through luck, more or less — steals Veronica’s heart. When Veronica jumps into Ron’s lead-anchor chair during his most personal tragedy, they break up, but she’s so popular with the audience they make her a co-lead. The News Team rebels, but they can’t shake the professional Veronica, and soon a prank she plays on Ron gets him fired.

There are moments of pure lunacy in this script. Times when you can’t hold in the laugh for the sheer absurdity of what you’re reading. And, though I’m basing it on almost nothing, I can pretty much guarantee that “Anchorman” will be a funny, weird, offbeat little movie. This script, though, focuses its attention in the wrong place. McKay and Ferrell spend a lot of time with the romance between Ron and Veronica, but it’s the thing they get the least comedic mileage out of. The view we’re given of this community of newscasters — this beyond-redemption pack of wolves — with their troubles and their perversions and wild parties — is like some delicious spoof of those hitting-the-subcutaneous-of-a-society docudramas normally directed by Oliver Stone. Those false smiles you see on the air, this script tells us, hides every behavior that is opposite to what it symbolizes.

You’ll also find some brilliant bits of nonsense. Such as when a rival crew rides up and surrounds the Action Team on bicycles, like bullying kids. Or when something horrible happens to Ron’s dog and he breaks down. The toss-away lines about the crimes someone’s kid commits.

When Veronica screws Ron over (since he reads anything on the TelePrompTer, she slips in foul language and he repeats it without even realizing it) the Action Team sets out to get her. The material picks up a bit, but not as much as you’d hope. Truthfully, this whole script is like that: hilarious bits sprinkled around, coming unexpectedly, surrounded by a lot of junk that just lies there. There are recurring gags here that even Will Ferrell’s blank-but-cocky timbre couldn’t make amusing. That flailing, thrashing, reckless, unhinged quality that lets the writers throw in animation and tear apart conventional structure is also what keeps “Anchorman” from being fully effective. The ending, as is always the case with this type of movie, is just an excuse to wrap things up.

Ferrell’s specialty is the naive man-child, and Ron Burgundy will allow him to polish the character one more time. Some of the best material in the script is devoted to Ron’s cluelessness. After they crack a joke that it’s Veronica’s “time of the month,” she questions if the men on the set even know what that means, and Ron says, “It’s when the bones in a woman’s breasts contract and seize up due to tidal fluctuations and the consumption of too much Halloween candy.” And Ron’s inept coverage of the Democratic National Convention is, in its contained little skit-ness, one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

All in all, “Anchorman” is one of the better comedy scripts I’ve read recently. Just because it’s so untamed and unafraid. It wants to excel at that eccentric, off-the-wall comedy — the stuff you see done so adeptly on “The Simpsons” every week — and succeeds. There’s enough lousy, going-nowhere material in this first draft to knock it down a few pegs, but the good certainly makes up for the bad and, with Ron Burgundy, Ferrell has created an empty-headed, falsely confident, George W. Bush-like character that will easily raise this film to hallowed “Elf”-like heights.

Throughout the script the writers list actors they want cast in the roles. They didn’t get many of them, but they did end up with some fine folks: Paul Rudd, Vince Vaughn, Maya Rudolph, Fred Willard, Chris Parnell and Steve Carell. The only question mark for me is Christina Applegate, who plays Veronica.

Rough around the edges though it may be, “Anchorman” at the very least walks with a strut and isn’t presenting anyone’s ideas but its own. It’s more than good enough, to say the least, that I think McKay, directing his first feature, will give us a fine time at the movies later this year in the summer of ’04. This script, marked as a first draft, was written by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.The film is set to open on July 9 and this draft is titled as “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”

Rating: B-