Friday, January 14, 2005

It's Thursday, and the return of a few Quick Video Reviews!

‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’
Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is the top dog in San Diego’s swingin’ 1970s local news scene. With his chauvinistic news team partners, he’s the very picture of macho cool. But when a female journalist dares to join the station staff and challenge Burgundy’s supremacy, the gloves come off in this witty comedy.
A lot of “Anchorman’s” appeal depends on what you think of Ferrell’s anarchist, borderline surreal brand of humor. I think he’s the funniest “Saturday Night Live” export since Phil Hartman, and he’s made some sharp movies lately such as “Elf” and “Old School.” “Anchorman” is no classic, but the off-the-wall gags keep you giggling.
Ferrell is hilarious as always, making Burgundy a bit of a schmuck but still likable deep down. Steve Carrell of “The Daily Show” nearly steals the movie as the almost brain-dead weatherman Brick Tamland. And as rival and love interest Veronica Corningstone, Christina Applegate, who’s been sorely misused in bad sitcoms and failed movies, has great rapport with Ferrell.
It’s one of those comedies that throws everything at the wall in an attempt to get something funny to stick — cameos by everyone from Jack Black to Ben Stiller to Tim Robbins, one particularly nasty scene of random animal cruelty, 1970s song numbers and journalist gang-fights. Some of it’s hysterically funny, some isn’t.
“Anchorman” suffers a little too much from “Saturday Night Live” movie-itis, feeling like a sketch that was expanded into a movie. Much of the dialogue was reportedly improvised. The story could’ve dug deeper, been a sharper parody of television news — lord knows it’s a ripe enough target — and felt less slapped together.
I found big parts of it funny as heck, enough to recommend. But imagine what “Anchorman” could’ve been if the makers gave it a little more effort.
*** of four

‘Napoleon Dynamite’
Maybe I just don’t get it.
“Napoleon Dynamite” was a sleeper hit last summer, about a ridiculously nerdy teen’s adventures in his hick Idaho hometown. From some of the acclaim avid fans have rained on it, you’d think it was the second coming of “The Graduate.”
But much like Napoleon himself, it’s an awkward, ungainly creature. It wants to be a cult comedy but feels staged and fake.
Dynamite (Jon Heder) is an uncool, gawky teen in Preston, Idaho — you know the type, fixated on his bike, kung fu and learning to break-dance. He befriends a new Hispanic kid at the school (Efren Ramirez), falls in love with a neighbor girl, gets involved in student government and tangles with his sleazy uncle in this free-wheeling, rambling film.
There have been many, many fine movies about quirky teenage outcasts, from “Rebel Without A Cause” to “The Breakfast Club.” But in most of those movies, you like the main character. Dynamite is so unappealing that it’s hard to care about his predicaments. He feels like a gimmick, with his deep bass voice, permed hair and 1970s fashions in a movie set in the modern day. It’s all attitude and no sincerity.
The pretty terrible acting by most of the cast doesn’t help. None of them feel like real human beings, and the deadpan humor mostly comes off flat. The most genuine character is Dynamite’s brother, Kip, who stumbles into love on the Internet.
Throughout “Napoleon Dynamite,” you can practically feel the first-time filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess sweating to make this edgy — but not too edgy. It’s a mainstream director’s idea of what an “independent” film should be. The cop-out of an ending shows the movie doesn’t have the courage to be honest.
That said, there are several moments of dry humor to be found in “Dynamite,” and I freely admit I may just not be the movie’s demographic. But the ground this movie treads on has been well traveled by many other, better movies.
** of four

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