Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

1 Apr

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I could just hear the board meeting for this movie. “Whatcha got for me?” “Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver.” “Greenlight it.” That would be my reaction to “Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver” as well because the idea of Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver is simply funny. It’d be like “Anchorman at Talladega.” Unfortunately, while there are a couple laugh-out-loud moments, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” is not as funny as it is mean-spirited.

But there are a few laugh-out-loud moments. The first comes at the beginning in which Ricky Bobby’s mother (Jane Lynch) gives birth to Ricky while his drunken father Reese (Gary Cole, a hoot) drives the car at 100 miles per hour. That’s a funny scene. Ricky Bobby loves to “go fast” and lives by a motto given by his father one day at school—the only day he’s ever seen him—which is simply, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” Ricky grows up as a NASCAR mechanic with a goofball for a driver. But when the chips are down, this calls for somebody who can go fast. So Ricky steps in, wins the race, and through many years, is world-famous with a smokin’ hot, busty, blonde wife (Leslie Bibb), a loyal best friend (John C. Reilly) who is also a NASCAR driver and is a great enough friend to come in second place, and a neverending winning record…and two very obnoxious boys who mouth off to their grandfather (“Shut up, Grandpa! Or I’ll go ape sh— on you’re a—!”) and do horrible things to people. Damien from “The Omen” could have a play date with these little monsters.

But Ricky’s “perfect” life doesn’t last long. Ricky gains a new rival—a gay French driver named Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen)—and his showboating (or show-carring) against him leads to humiliation and the end of his career. I mentioned above that there are a few laugh-out-loud moments in this movie. One of them comes after Ricky crashes. He’s physically all right, but then, he strips down to his underwear and acts like he’s on fire. (“Help me, Oprah Winfrey! Help me, Allah! Help me, Tom Cruise!”) That is a brilliant comic scene and I don’t think that just anybody would have the guts to run around in his underwear in an auditorium, let alone a racetrack. Will Ferrell really lets out his comic talent for this really funny scene. Another great moment is when Ricky Bobby proves he is paralyzed from the accident, even though he’s not.

What I really liked in “Talladega Nights” were the scenes on the racetrack. This isn’t like watching NASCAR on TV where we keep the camera on one or two positions, none of them close to the track or cars. The direction of “Talladega Nights” is special because it shows us many shots of the track we haven’t seen before. We have cars speeding towards us, racing right by us, and so many different angles to see them through. In one way, it works as a satire for NASCAR. But it is all so well-made.

But the storyline is lightweight and the characters don’t really show appeal with their mean-spiritedness—most of the dialogue is mainly composed of cruelty in the form of one-liners (which I don’t mind, if they were amounting to something I actually cared about). And that’s too bad. Will Ferrell is a great comedic actor and he sure proved that in movies like “Elf” and “Anchorman.” But in “Talladega Nights,” with his dim wits and George W. Bush impersonation, he could’ve been a comedy icon and people may think of the character that way. But to me, he just came off as obnoxious and mean-spirited as almost everyone else in this movie. Do filmmakers think it’s funny when people yell at each other? John C. Reilly and Amy Adams, who plays Ricky’s personal assistant/future girlfriend, give the film some appeal with their performances, but they are criminally underused. These two can bring grins to many people’s faces. I would’ve wanted to see more of them. Amy Adams, in particular, gives the film’s most energetic comedic moment when she finally confronts Ricky and talks some sense into him.

Sadly, the ballad of Ricky Bobby is not very touching. And most of the other jokes, aside from the ones I’ve already mentioned, fall flat. Director/co-writer Adam McKay, who also directed “Anchorman,” seems to be trying too hard with this movie. McKay directed TV episodes of “Freaks and Geeks” that were more appealing than this feature-length film. Not a particularly good sign.

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