|Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jane Lynch, Amy Adams
Director: Adam McKay
There are about a hundred things wrong with “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” Its ‘we’re freestyling and isn’t it cool’ attitude is really ‘we’re throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks’ in disguise. Will Ferrell reveals new limitations as an actor with nearly every performance. (He is a mouse among comedy men in this cast, that’s for sure.) Lastly, the movie’s idea of what passes for funny is, more often than not, insulting. And yet, there’s something oddly entertaining about it, even when the movie itself doesn’t seem to know which bits are working and which ones aren’t. But just when you think the movie is going to fall completely off the rails, along comes Gary Cole to save the day. They should erect a statue in Hollywood in his honor.
Ferrell stars as Ricky Bobby, the son of a ne’er-do-well bootlegger (Cole) who shares his father’s need for speed. Eventually Ricky lands a job on a NASCAR pit crew, and when their slacker driver, who finishes last in the points standings every year, bails on them mid-race, Ricky takes over and crawls his way to third place. Before long, Ricky, with the invaluable assistance of his team partner and best friend Cal (John C. Reilly), is the best NASCAR driver in the world, which nets him a hot wife Carley (Leslie Bibb) who gives birth to two children, whom he affectionately names Walker and Texas Ranger. However, French driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen, a.k.a. Ali G) challenges Ricky’s status as best driver, and suddenly Ricky’s life is turned upside down.
It’s extremely difficult to make a smart comedy about stupid people – “This Is Spinal Tap” still holds the crown – and that is one of the biggest problems with “Talladega Nights.” Ricky is not just stupid; he and his family are bar none the shallowest, most one-dimensional people you’ve ever seen onscreen, and even when they address this issue later on, it reveals itself as a plot device that only exposes more flaws in the storytelling. Consider it one of those time travel conundrums: if A was always true, then B never would have happened in the first place.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about “Talladega Nights” is how much it utilizes yet wastes its spectacular supporting cast. Cole as Ricky’s father, plus the superb Jane Lynch (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Best in Show”) as Ricky’s mother? Reilly? Cohen? Amy Adams as Ricky’s assistant? Every one of them wipes the floor with Ferrell, whether they mean to or not, and yet, since they’re supporting players, they all wind up acting subservient to Ferrell in order to give him the big laughs. One can’t help but wonder how much funnier this movie would have been with Steve Carell, or someone who understands the importance of distributing the wealth, as the lead.
Of course, nothing in the previous paragraph has anything to do with Gary Cole, who steals this movie from the first scene and never lets go. In fact, he’s the only character who’s fleshed out in any realistic way (the scene of him with the race tickets is gold). Everyone else is a caricature designed for a purpose that in many instances is contrary to anything that caricature of a person would ever do in real life. It’s like Christina Applegate’s character in “Anchorman.” Why does she love Ferrell’s vacuous Ron Burgundy? Because it’s required of her. No more thought than that was put into the decision.
“Talladega Nights” is going to find an audience, the same way that “Anchorman” did, despite the latter being the most overrated comedy in years. And while Ferrell is a funny guy, he is now officially beginning to push his luck. Streaking in “Old School” was one thing (though everyone knows Luke Wilson was that movie’s heart and soul), but no one needs to see him in his tighty whiteys ever again, never mind twice in the same movie. Stop the madness, please.
For a single-disc set, this DVD is well stocked with the kinds of goodies that Will Ferrell fans will enjoy. Along with an audio commentary that features director Adam McKay, Ferrell and John C. Reilly, there are several deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and a bit called “Line-o-Rama,” where you see the actors trying one joke after another for a particular scene. There are also interviews of Ricky and Cal and Cal with Carley, bonus race footage, and a bit where Ferrell comes back to Talladega for a promotional bit. Some of the outtakes are actually funnier than the stuff that made the final cut. Dig in.