REVIEW: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby [2006]

“Shake and Bake”

If Talladega Nights did anything for me, it confirmed my previous bias that racecar driving is boring to watch. While filled with some great, random one-liners, and some really good performances, Ricky Bobby’s ballad crawls along at a sluggish pace. What’s weird about this outlook is that the slowest talking character, played hilariously by Sacha Baron Cohen, was actually a part that moved the scenes forward. It was flashy, fast-talking, yet ultimately uninteresting.

I will admit to not being much of a Will Ferrell fan. I find his comedy loud and obnoxious, used correctly very rarely. He is usually good in ensemble pieces where he is not the star, Old School for instance, while using one-note performances extended way beyond their limits in his star vehicles like Anchorman, which I hated besides a nice absurdist back street brawl, and the film being discussed here. Ferrell’s shtick seems to always go too long; he seems to revel in killing his jokes, which becomes even more annoying when everyone in America starts to say his lines verbatim in casual conversation. The film had some parts that really worked, however, mostly when it was at its most absurd. There was a subversive sense of comical surrealism at moments that succeeded; they showed that everyone was taking him/herself with naught a shred of seriousness. Most of the slow parts, really the unsuccessful ones, are when we are suddenly spoon-fed sentimentality and new-found moral fiber that is so out of character, one wishes it was gone so as to see more funny instances. The film worked as a comedy and died quickly when it decided to take itself way too seriously.

There were some real shining moments, however. John C. Reilly is amazing. He has always played the low-key, slightly naïve, schlub well, and here he takes low-IQ to another level. The comic timing and delivery is impeccable and I hope that he sticks to these character roles that suit his abilities perfectly rather then try his hand at superstardom as most other “sidekicks” try and fail to do. One thing that he has going for him is that he is established already, (used brilliantly by autuers such as Paul Thomas Anderson), and won’t fall prey to any lucrative deals for crap scripts. Gary Cole is spectacular as Ferrell’s father. The sleazy, white-trash nature he brings is true to the character and provides most of the good laughs. Sacha Baron Cohen was also a revelation to me. I have not seen his ”Da Ali G Show,” so I know very little about him, except for the very funny trailer for his movie starring the titular alter-ego Borat. By being very deliberate and always in character throughout, he has created a working caricature. The accent and effeminate, European tendencies are a great contrast to the boorish Bobby. Most other actors are ineffectively used, mostly because these films need to cram in as many cameos as possible, throwing in totally useless cut scenes that are so random they are more distracting than funny. Amy Adams is involved in possibly the best scene of the movie towards the end in a bar with Ferrell. She delivers a great monologue and Ferrell’s vocal reactions after are priceless. Unfortunately she was abused earlier in the film, just being shot silent with mouth open, looking as though her talent would totally be wasted.

In the end, the randomness and short bursts of real good comedy couldn’t save the film. Its sluggish pace is definitely not helped by its infinite number of product placements at all. I mean, come on, when did Hollywood need to whore itself out that much? I see where some reviewers have a point saying it’s a commentary on the plethora of advertising in the Nascar world, but I don’t give the filmmakers that much credit. It was a low budget comedy that needed money to clear its licensing fees and car wrecks. I will admit that product placement caused the best laugh of the film; just watch for Applebees during the final race and prepare for absurdity at its best. Unfortunately we aren’t treated with enough moments like that, where the creators trust the audience to go for the ride and laugh while the movie laughs at itself. Instead we get more moments where everything is spelled out for us. For instance, a great moment of hilarity when we arrive at Cohen’s character’s mansion and see Mos Def and Elvis Costello. The joke is priceless that they, for what possible reason, could be there. It’s a real shame that Ferrell needs to bring attention to them, for no other reason than to ruin the inside joke for those who actually recognized the singers. Remember to stay and watch the few outtakes during the start of the end credits. At least reward yourself for sitting through the duration for some good, unorchestrated laughs.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 4/10 | ★ ½

[1] Will Ferrell stars in Columbia Pictures’ comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Photo Credit: Suzanne Hanover, S.M.P.S.P.
[2] John C. Reilly (l) and Will Ferrell star in Columbia Pictures’ comedy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Photo Credit: Suzanne Hanover, S.M.P.S.P.


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