It may not look like it, but Anchorman is more than a showcase for Will Ferrell to prance around in his panties and talk funny. The movie is silly to the core but offers more than easy, gross-out gags — what better fodder for Ferrell than the movie’s subject matter, the evening news, with its “action teams” posturing and strutting about?

Not to say there is nothing redeeming about the local news. After all, how else would we get the weather? But you have to admit there is something inherently inane about a profession in which one can discuss the war in Iraq and that night’s “reality” TV show in the same breath.

Anchorman tells the story of Ron Burgundy (Ferrell), a 1970s local news anchorman who struggles to accept a female counterpart. The movie begins with a heavy dose of Ferrell’s shtick, including showing off his flabby and furry physique while wearing nothing but red underpants and a bathrobe (file under “things better left to the imagination”).

Burgundy is as pompous as he is thick. He defines “diversity” as a type of wooden, Civil War-era ship and translates “San Diego” as a German word for a large mammal’s private parts. Like any good anchorman, he delivers a catchphrase at the end of each newscast: “Stay classy, San Diego.”

Ferrell, one of the funniest recent “Saturday Night Live” cast members, plays Burgundy to perfection. The script co-writer is occasionally smart and always over the top, delivering commentary on subjects like water-skiing squirrels in a tone so deep and serious it’s hilarious, reminiscent of his James Lipton impersonations on “SNL.”

Ferrell’s love interest/rival in the film is Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), a blond bombshell with journalistic integrity. Applegate, whose post-”Married With Children” record is far from unblemished (ahem, The Sweetest Thing) holds her own. It’s actually fun to watch her play against Ferrell’s silliness.

In fact, the supporting cast nearly upstages Ferrell, most notably Steve Carell as dim-witted weatherman Brick Tamland. Carell cut his teeth skewering the news on television’s “The Daily Show with John Stewart” and again in Bruce Almighty. When it comes to playing the stupid news guy, he never fails.

Even Paul Rudd, who is rarely in anything good (remember The Object of My Affection?), gets laughs. Hiding behind an oversized mustache, Rudd drops his usual earnest, sweet-boy routine to become Brian Fantana, a cologne-addicted, macho cheese-ball too chauvinistic to accept a woman on the news team.

Ferrell’s pranks aren’t for everyone, but he is creative. Even if you don’t prefer his routine, Anchorman is worth watching for the big television news team gang fight scene, featuring cameos by the likes of Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller and Tim Robbins. Come on, guys in leisure suits and coiffed hair playing television reporters throwing down in a back alley? This scene is, without a doubt, truly funny.

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