But beware of assuming that the surface stupidity of Ferrell’s movies tells you anything about what’s under the hood. Like Monty Python, there is a fierce intelligence beneath all the silliness, a deep understanding of what makes things really funny and a keen sense of the ridiculousness of life. Ferrell and McKay live and breathe the comedy they write - to dismiss them as buffoons is to miss the whole point.
And, subtle or not, Talladega Nights is certainly their funniest film to date. It’s stuffed full of such marvellously silly details and sketches - sons named Walker and Texas Ranger, a father who tries to rid Ricky of his fear by putting a live mountain lion in his car, a gay French rival - you just can’t help laughing. Ferrell also has a knack for picking great co-stars. John C. Reilly is perfect as Ricky’s even dumber buddy Cal, and Gary Cole is equally good as his good-for-nothing dad, Reese.
Apart from the comedy, there’s a good deal of entertainment value in the racing itself. The scenes on the track are exceptionally well handled, making them every bit as exciting as the ultra-serious films they are parodying (Days of Thunder anyone?). McKay certainly knows how to make the most out of his visceral subject, feeding his audience a steady stream of fast cars and beautiful women. On the strength of its subject matter alone, Talladega Nights is Ferrell’s most enjoyable movie to date.
But it is also one of his messiest and sloppiest films. The jokes may come thick and fast, but they crash just as often as they soar. The film is full of strange, overlong scenes that must have seemed funnier on the page than they do on screen. No matter how silly you are, you have to keep your comedy tight, and Talladega sags far too often. Another disappointment is Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G), who fails to make the most of a very funny part.
On the whole Talladega Nights is a lot like the sport it portrays - bright, fast and full of fun, but also messy, crass and one-track. This is really a movie for fans of the frat-pack’s freewheeling style of comedy, and not for “serious” movie fans. Still, even at his most addled, Ferrell is funnier and more original than 90% of what passes for comedy nowadays. So go on, sneak in and see it, you might be surprised at how often you laugh.
- Alistair Fairweather
In Talladgea Nights Will Ferrell plays yet another bumbling idiot. Only this time he's behind the wheel of a powerful racing car. Lord have mercy.
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