Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
2006, PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Adam McKay. Starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Gary Cole, Jane Lynch, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, Amy Adams, Molly Shannon.
REVIEWED By Toddy Burton, Fri., Aug. 4, 2006
Silly, inconsistent, and completely frivolous, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby also happens to be one of the funniest movies this side of 2006. Director McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) returns with a paint-by-numbers plot and a star (Ferrell) performing well-rehearsed tricks. In spite of my yearning for new comedy ground, I can’t deny that there’s a good reason Ferrell is one of the most highly paid actors working today: He’s hilarious. Moreover, he successfully surrounds himself with outrageous, funny entertainers. Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, a stock-car racer born to drive but lacking direction. Ricky only has eyes for No. 1, even at the expense of his best friend (Reilly). With his babe of a wife (the very funny Bibb), hellcat kids, and mansion, Ricky seems to have it all. But complications ensue when a French driver, Jean (Cohen), invades Ricky’s turf and takes over. With his childish expressions and doughy body, Ferrell manages at different times to be delicate, endearing, or completely over-the-top. Unafraid of surrealism or slapstick, he’ll clearly do anything for the joke but is often at his most hilarious when he subtly underplays a scene. Reilly is brilliant as Ricky’s best friend and No. 2 man; while in general his comic roles are few and far between, hopefully this turn marks a portent of things to come. Unfortunately, Cohen (Da Ali G Show), all thin cigarettes and incomprehensible accent, isn’t quite up to par as Jean, Ricky’s outed nemesis (though can anything top Cohen’s inspired alter ego, Borat?) – though the filmmakers do squeeze every possible joke out of the introduction of a gay racer. Richter, on the other hand, is underused, though hilarious, as Jean’s husband. As a boozy wife, Shannon is funny, but her performance is too brief, and Adams (Junebug) has no real opportunity to demonstrate her incredible talent. Taking full advantage of Americana graphics and abundant visual opportunities, the first 20 minutes of the film sail along with hilarious glory, but when the story gets going, it becomes rapidly apparent that there won’t be any surprises in the plot department. While jokes are repeatedly used to cover up plot holes, the successful use of surrealist humor (Elvis Costello shows up for no real reason) compensates. Imagine attending a NASCAR race with the funniest, wildest person you know. Sure, you might get hot and a little overwhelmed, but you’d laugh a lot and would never regret the experience.