Friday, August 6, 2010

Review: "Talladega Nights" is a Ferrell-McKay Gem

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 167 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Running time: 105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes:
MPAA – PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, drug references, and brief comic violence
WRITERS: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
PRODUCERS: Jimmy Miller and Judd Apatow
EDITOR: Brent White


Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, Jane Lynch, Houston Tumlin, Grayson Russell, Amy Adams, Greg Germann, Molly Shannon, Andy Richter, David Koechner, and Pat Hingle with Elvis Costello, Mos Def, Darrell Waltrip, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

In 2004, co-writer/director Adam McKay and co-writer/star Will Ferrell gave us Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, about a dense, arrogant, but very popular local news anchor. This month the same duo gives us Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, about a dense, arrogant, but very popular and successful NASCAR race driver. This time Ferrell and McCay have refined their process, and while Ricky Bobby is every bit as funny as Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights simply works better as a film. Talladega Nights is funny, but it’s more than just a joke fest. It has an insane comic premise, but with heart, and the cast makes the characters believable as Ricky Bobby’s family, friends, and rivals

Talladega Nights tells the story of the rise of Ricky Bobby, from a 10-year old boy (Luke Bigham) abandoned by his father, Reese Bobby (Gary Cole), to a win-at-all-cost stock car driver. At the peak of his success, Bobby has a loyal racing partner in his childhood friend, Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly), and a veteran racing crew chief in Lucius Washington (Michael Clarke Duncan). He has a “red-hot” wife, Carley Bobby (Leslie Bibb) and two sons, Walker (Houston Tumlin) and Texas Ranger (Grayson Russell). However, Larry Dennit, Jr. (Greg Germann), the owner of the racing team to which Ricky Bobby belongs adds a pompous and conceited French Formula One racer named Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) to the Dennit racing team, and Girard is gunning for Ricky Bobby. Soon, Ricky Bobby’s career crashes and burns, but with the help of his negligent and immature dad and his loving mom, Lucy Bobby (Jane Lynch), Ricky Bobby might just return to the front of the pack.

Ricky Bobby could have been some paper-thin character Will Ferrell created during his tenure on “Saturday Night Live,” but he gives the characters such depth. He’s not a caricature – this arrogant dim-wit who makes you laugh – he has humanity. In fact, the Ricky Bobby of the movie is much deeper, a much richer character than what the advertisements for Talladega Nights suggests. That’s a testament to Ferrell’s skill as a great comic actor, with an emphasis on actor. However, while Ricky Bobby is a wonderful character, having an outstanding supporting cast of characters makes Ricky Bobby even better.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is impeccably cast and performed in terms of supporting players. The actors embody their roles, such as John C. Reilly’s Cal Naughton, Jr., Gary Cole’s Reese Bobby, and Jane Lynch’s Lucy Bobby. The caricatures also work to comic perfection, including Leslie Bibb as Ricky Bobby’s wife, Carley, and Sacha Baron Cohen (“Ali G”) as Ricky Bobby’s rival, Jean Girard. Carley is the perfect send-up as the greedy, camera-hogging, ambitious celebrity wife, and Girard gives the movie a flavor of the bizarre. Michael Clarke Duncan’s Lucius Washington is the steadying center and the fatherly guide to the wacky and childish racing team, and he creates a balance between the farce and satire with the characters on one hand, and the seriousness with which the film has to take NASCAR racing on the other.

Although Talladega Nights pokes fun as NASCAR and its brawny emphasis on and robust relationship with its advertising sponsors, the film doesn’t make fun of NASCAR, its culture, or fans. The brilliance of McKay and Ferrell’s screenplay is that it is a memorable comic creation filled with the kind of eccentric and harebrained characters that make a comedy actually funny. However, they also give the comedy dramatic tension and conflict, and the characters have convincing motivation. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is a farce, a comic romp, and a dramatic narrative, and not just a bag of jokes and sketch comedy scenes. But it was up to the cast to make this nice scenario work, and they certainly worked it.

8 of 10

Saturday, August 5, 2006


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