Sunday, December 17, 2006

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Leslie Bibb, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jane Lynch, Amy Adams, Andy Richter
Running Time: 122 min.

Rating: Unrated

*** (out of ****)

If anything is ripe for movie parody, it's NASCAR. If there's any actor who should star in it it's Will Ferrell. While this may have been a better idea on paper than it ends up being in execution, it's a funny movie with many scattered laughs, and is worth seeing just to witness Ferrell being upstaged by many of his co-stars. The movie isn't quite as funny as it's hilarious title suggests, but I'm recommending it almost solely on the basis of the supporting performances. I'm sure Will Ferrell fans will enjoy it but don't trick yourself into thinking it's another Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It may share the same writer/director in Adam McKay, but it doesn't contain as much of that movie's wit and humor. Die hard Ferrell supporters or NASCAR fans curious to see how their sport is affectionately mocked will find the most to like about it.

Will Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, who all of his life has dreamed of nothing other than becoming a top race car driver. We find this out in the hilarious opening flashback, featuring his drunken father (Gary Cole) being thrown out of his school on "career day" after giving a wildly inappropriate speech to the kids. Years pass, his father becomes estranged from the family and Ricky Bobby has become the top stock racing champion in the country. Alongside his childhood best friend and racing partner Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly) the duo take the racing world by storm finishing number one and two in nearly every race, earning the nickname "Shake and Bake." I should mention that the two characters repeat this unfunny catchphrase nearly 200 times during the span of the two hour motion picture, hoping it will only get funnier. It doesn't.

Their friendship is threatened when Cal tires of being "Number 2" and takes it upon himself to steal Ricky's hot wife, Carley (Leslie Bibb) and claim what he feels is his rightful position as the top driver in the world after being overshadowed for years by his best friend. Complicating matters further is the arrival of gay French racing sensation Jean Girard (Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen) and the reintroduction of his deadbeat father. He must fight an uphill battle to reclaim his position as the top driver in the world, while at the same time learn more about himself.

When I say Will Ferrell is upstaged in this movie I really mean it. He did a good job and fits the role fine, but the supporting characters provide most, if not all, of the movie's laughs. There are actually a lot of funny things going on in Talladega Nights on a fairly consistent basis. At the beginning of the film there's an absolutely hilarious scene at the dinner table with the Bobby family where Ricky's brat kids, named Walker and Texas Ranger curse out and insult their grandfather while Ricky and Cal cheer them on. There's a whole feature on the DVD of deleted scenes featuring these brats insulting everyone in sight that unfortunately didn't make the cut. These kids could have their own movie they're that good, or rather bad. Then we have Ricky's very bizarre, one-sided view of Jesus he shares with everyone while saying grace.

Will Ferrell may be the star, but Sacha Baron Cohen steals the movie from underneath him as rival Jean Girard. He speaks in this intentionally inaccurate and at times totally unintelligable accent that's so ridiculous you can't help but laugh at everything he says. It also helps that everything he says is incredibly stupid. I couldn't help but wonder if I would have enjoyed the movie more if it had focused more on him than Ricky. Luckily they realized what they had and Cohen does deservedly get nearly as much screen time as Ferrell, so no complaints The pride of Jean when he introduces Gregory (Andy Richter) to the NASCAR fans at the bar as "his husband" and the reaction of the ESPN reporters who have to reveal it is priceless. It seems like the movie's making fun of gay people, but it's much smarter than that. It's making fun of southern NASCAR fans who have probably never met a gay person in their life.

The movie tries to deliver a message between Ricky's abandonment issues with his father which leads to the neglection of his own family and friends, but I was too busy laughing at all the supporting players to even notice. Gary Cole is just great as the alcoholic dad and Amy Adams (Oscar nominee last year for Junebug), in a small role as Ricky's devoted assistant has an incredible scene at Applebee's that has to be seen to be believed, and I can tell you if you're a guy you won't be able to get it out of your head for weeks. I'd recommend the movie just for her.

I've heard some complaints about all the product placement in the film, but it serves a purpose in mocking product placement in NASCAR. There's no shortage of it in this film with Wonder Bread, Old Spice, Pierre, Powerade, Applebees and many more popping up. There's also bonus fake promos and commercials starring Ricky and Cal that you can access on the special features that are pretty funny. I also give credit to the writers for not having the final race go how you would expect it to at all. When the film was over I thought it was decent, if flawed. I didn't expect to like Talladega Nights, but there's a strange goofy, charm to it that pulls you in.

No comments: