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Talladega Nights

2006-12-31 11:04

The story of stock car racing sensation Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell), whose win at all costs approach has made him a national hero. He and his loyal racing partner and childhood friend, Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly), are a fearless duo that thrill their fans by finishing most races in the top spots - with Ricky Bobby always leading the pack. When a flamboyant French Formula One driver, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), challenges him for the supremacy of NASCAR, Ricky Bobby must face his own demons and fight Girard for the right to be known as racing’s top driver.


Whether you enjoy Talladega Nights depends very much on whether you enjoy Will Ferrell. In his decades in comedy clubs and on TV’s Saturday Night Live, Ferrell perfected his own brand of played-to-the-hilt comedy and, looking at the success of his last few movies, he has definitely found a cosy niche. Still, there’s nothing lazy about Talladega Nights, if anything it’s his most ambitious and most ridiculous film to date.

Like 2004’s Anchorman (which Adam McKay also co-wrote and directed), Talladega Nights is a broad, affectionate parody of an ultra-masculine subject. In this case though, the film doesn’t need to return to the ‘70s in search of testosterone, current day NASCAR has plenty to spare. Ferrell has a canny ability to pick subjects that give him the most range in which to be utterly ridiculous, and you don’t get much more dunder-headed or sincere than NASCAR.

It’s this sincerity that is the key to Ferrell’s trademark comedy. He has an ability to both write and perform the most idiotic of scenes without any hint of irony or subtlety. His characters may be egomaniacal imbeciles and mental defectives, but he plays them with such conviction that you have to laugh. And with the laughter comes unexpected sympathy - you actually start to care about this big, dumb, galoot!

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.

Colin Murphy 2006/10/29 11:47 AM
Talladega Nights Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is one of the defining moments for comedy in our generation. It shows us that Will Ferrel can basically make us laugh and cry, without the help of the comedy dream team (think anchorman, old school..etc) The movie is hilarious, and NASCAR is a discipline that is not often mocked. This one goes down well.
tanya 2006/10/29 6:18 PM
talladega nights u suck
Chris Coetsee 2006/10/29 9:58 PM
Talladega Nights Talladega Nights is one of the funniest movies you will see this year. Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen's performenses are hilarious . And Tanya , you suck !
Chris 2006/10/29 10:11 PM
Will Ferrell I own 6 of Will Ferrell's movies , all fantastic , and Talladega Nights will become MY number 7 , cause it's a brilliant movie with some of the funniest dialog ever . So don't listen (or even read) to tanyas comments , she clearly has no sense of humor .
Zak 2006/10/30 8:08 AM
Old School Old School set the bar- T/ nights goes off the radar! What- ever Will Ferrell's on- I want some---> I smaaked this stukkend!
Toy 2006/10/30 10:10 AM
Shake and Bake!!! Mama I'm goin' fast!!!!
nawaal 2006/11/07 1:21 PM
will ferrell will ferrell is brilliant. i love his movies, and anyone who doesn't clearly has no sense of humor. ron burgundy / ricky bobby / chass reinhold, it doesn't matter who he plays, the man is funny. will ferrell for president!
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