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Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/03/06 22:29:50

"Anchorman II: Electric Boogaloo!"
3 stars (Just Average)

Those coming to “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” looking for more inspired comic lunacy from the team behind “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” will walk away pleased, but not overly so. “Talladega” is sort of an “Anchorman Lite;” there are big laughs here, but it’s all just a bit restrained, and as such, it doesn’t stick in one’s memory and become the home to high quotable silliness as its predecessor did.

The team is Will Ferrell and Adam McKay - Ferrell stars, McKay directs, both wrote the screenplay. This time out, Ferrell is Ricky Bobby (hence the title), born in the back of a speeding car. Growing up, all he could say for years was, “I wanna go fast!” And so he does. After a mid-race replacement puts Ricky in the driver’s seat at a NASCAR event, Ricky quickly becomes the hottest driver the sport has to offer.

The set-up whizzes by us all too quickly, content with skipping over the details and getting us right to the premise, which is, simply, Will Ferrell as a big, dumb, redneck NASCAR driver. Who cares for exposition? The film spends more time with a dinner scene where we watch Ricky’s family chow down on Domino’s, KFC, Coca-Cola, Powerade, Wonder Bread, and “the always delicious Taco Bell” than it does with explaining what leads Ricky to fame and fortune in the first place. Yet we don’t mind, because this is Will Ferrell in big-silly-absurd-comedy mode, complete with hilariously bizarre non sequiturs and the goofiest one-liners a day of ad-libbing can whip up. There’s a whole conversation about Ricky’s preference in praying to the baby Jesus (you know, instead of the grown-up, on-the-cross Christ) that goes off on all the many glorious wacked-out tangents for which Ferrell has become known.

If such a thing is possible, Ferrell and McKay have managed to drum up a plot thinner than that of “Anchorman;” like that film, “Talladega” is nothing but a loose thread on which to hang a series of the most ridiculous of punchlines. Ricky is challenged by a French Formula-1 racer (Sasha Baron Cohen, here far less annoying than he’s been in other pictures); Ricky gets into a nasty crash; Ricky loses his job and his smokin’-hot wife; Ricky goes into hiding; Ricky learns to drive again when his good-for-nothing transient dad (the very hilarious Gary Cole) shows him the magic of driving with a hungry cougar in the back seat (don’t ask); Ricky goes for the glorious comeback at the Talladega 500.

I get the feeling Ferrell and McKay only care about as much for the plot as it takes to get them to the end of the day, but hidden within this slapped-together nonsense are some giddy parodies of Hollywood formula - watch for the grand payoff in the subplot where Ricky’s always leaving tickets at the box office for his absentee father; these guys wouldn’t dare give us the sentimental conclusion to this we’re expecting, would they?

Even when not subverting clichés (which, actually, is most of the movie), “Talladega” earns points for simply being very, very funny. Most of the comedy comes in small but powerful doses, a single yuk here and there that just hits all the right spots. (A personal favorite: after selling advertising space on his windshield, Ricky laments, “This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient!”) A few times, “Talladega” gets laughs through an entire scene, such as the bit where Ricky thinks he’s paralyzed and his friends watch him prove himself wrong through the use of a knife and a leg. (Much of the comedy comes courtesy of supporting players John C. Reilly and Michael Clarke Duncan, both of whom match Ferrell laugh for laugh in many scenes.)

Despite the ample supply of laughter, “Talladega” is ultimately a weaker comedy than “Anchorman.” This one feels less inspired, less memorable, lees quotable. The comedy isn’t as consistent, the absurdity has been mellowed (perhaps to appeal to a broader audience who didn’t agree with the off-the-wall weirdness of “Anchorman”), the sarcasm subdued just enough to notice. “Anchorman” was memorably silly from start to finish, while “Talladega” works more sporadically. It’s still funny, but not as often.

Still, it’s well worth seeing, as it does achieve the only thing it’s really aiming to accomplish: it’s funny as hell. Even without the repeat comedy value of its predecessor, what laughs we do get make this return enjoyable for fans of Ferrell’s style of comic riffing. Shake and bake, Ricky Bobby. Shake and bake.

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