guppy's film reviews

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby

Year: 2006
Director: Adam McKay
Notable Actors: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly
Score: B
Summary: Decent for a movie. Excellent for a Will Ferrell movie.


Talladega Nights is Will Ferrell's new NASCAR-based comedy. Will Ferrell is the titular Ricky Bobby, a driver with an obsession with being first. I'm not normally a fan of Will Ferrell, but Talladega Nights was pretty watchable.

The plot of Talladega is fairly predictable. Some setup aside, Ferrell is a champion racecar driver, teamed with his best friend since grade school, Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly). His manager, however, fed up with Ferrell's attitude, hires a French driver for the team, and while trying to prove himself during a race, Ferrell crashes, and is traumatized.

Despite a run-of-the-mill story, Talladega succeeds in the details. I wasn't constantly laughing, but there were a lot of good jokes and setups, and a couple of them I did laugh uncontrollably at. The supporting cast is also very good, including Ricky's pit manager Lucius (Michael Clarke Duncan), Ricky's wife Carley (Leslie Bibb) and especially Ricky's teammate Cal. That's partly because they're funny, but mostly it's because they're memorable.

One of the reasons I don't like Will Ferrell is that he generally seems to play the same character in every movie -- a bizarre jerk who talks in a funny voice and has absolutely no sense of self-perception -- and I don't like that character very much. Ferrell succeeds on that score in Talladega Nights, which is a bit strange because he pretty much fits that description; he's not too bright, he has a vaguely Southern accent and he acts like a complete ass without realizing it. I think it's because the character feels less forced. Ricky's accent sounds much more natural than Mugatu's (Zoolander) weird voice, for example, and Ferrell seems much more comfortable with the role and less inclined to try to wring humor out of saying dumb things loudly as he has in past movies.

Reilly is probably the best of the supporting cast. He's a caricature -- he comes off as a rather dim, redneck NASCAR driver stereotype, which is presumably what he was going for. But he's a very likeable one and a lot of fun to watch.

The script is not bad, with occasional moments of brilliance, though I don't want to spoil them by recounting them here. A lot of the humor isn't based on jokes and funny lines but rather absurd situations; Ferrell himself is at the root of most of those, and there's a fantastic twist on one from Duncan.

The movie's biggest weakness is the cookie-cutter plot; you'll see most of it coming long before it happens. The story really isn't the point, though, so that's okay. Other than that, you'll need an appreciation for situational humor, since there aren't all that many laugh-out-loud lines; if you can manage that, you should enjoy Talladega. I do recommend not getting sucked into the hype, though; a lot of people are heralding it as one of the best comedies in recent years, and I'm not sure it warrants that acclaim.


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