Friday, August 11, 2006

Movie Review: "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"

Starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Amy Adams, Michael Clarke Duncan, Greg Germann, Leslie Bibb
Directed by Adam McKay

Official Web site

If it wasn’t clear before now, there can be no doubt that Will
Ferrell’s got playing dumb down cold. As the central character in
“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” (now in theaters)
Ferrell and his comedic co-conspirators take stupidity for a ride,
while pushing the boundaries of its PG-13 rating.

The sport of NASCAR and its growing popularity serves as the main stage
for the eminently watchable and occasionally hilarious comedy,
reteaming Ferrell with co-writer and director Adam McKay. The two
collaborated in 2004 with the equally stupid, but more consistently
funny “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy.”

Like that movie, “Talladega Nights” centers around a somewhat clueless
dimwit with an unchecked ego, practically begging to be taken down a
notch or two. In this case, it’s Ricky Bobby, who is raised with the
need for speed, largely pumped into him by his deadbeat of a dad (Gary
Cole, oozing just the right amount of sleaze). He gets into auto racing
first as a pit crew member, then as a driver.

Along with his best friend Cal (nicely portrayed by John C. Reilly),
Ricky quickly ascends to superstar status in NASCAR, as his confidence
and cockiness grows with every first place finish. Obstacles inevitably
are placed in his path, first with new French rival Jean Girrard (Sacha
Baron Cohen), then with the psychological damage done from a serious
car crash, that leaves Ricky convinced he’s paralyzed.

If some of the story elements seem overly familiar, it’s because they
are, as the Tom Cruise vehicle “Days of Thunder” covered some similar
ground. Of course one difference is that “Talladega Nights” contains
some intentionally silly dialogue and situations.

Another area that Ferrell’s film is superior to Cruise’s is in the racing scenes themselves. McKay and cinematographer Oliver Wood capture the speed, noise and intensity of NASCAR better than any racing movie to date. Yet, there’s probably too much reliance on racing footage here, as there’s few laughs generated from these scenes. However, the climactic race does manage to generate some of the movie’s biggest laughs, including a choice plug for Applebee’s.

Some NASCAR fans might bristle at some of the shots taken at the sport,
but most of it is good-natured ribbing, and “Nights” was obviously
allowed fairly open-ended access, making use of several racers,
announcers and some of the circuit’s actual tracks.

One of the movie’s assets – its very good supporting cast – also serves
as a drawback, as some of the talent involved (Molly Shannon and Andy
Richter, in particular) is given next to nothing to do. Perhaps the DVD
will find some of these roles sitting on the cutting room floor.

While the laughs don’t come as frequently as they did in “Anchorman,”
Ferrell shows that he’s hardly above making himself the fool. Whether
it’s sprinting around the race track in his underwear or getting mauled
by a cougar (don’t ask), Ferrell’s commitment to Ricky Bobby is a sight
to behold.

Still, there’s a question of whether Ferrell, McKay and Co., can
continue to lean on thinly plotted dumb comedies as they head towards
middle age. For now, though, audiences are eating it up, proving that
playing stupid is financially pretty smart.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence.)

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