Ferrell brings back familiar humor in ‘Talladega’

Andrew Gaug


Credit: Steve Schirra

Sometimes sticking to the old formula works the best.

After a series of comedies that flopped last year, Will Ferrell, with the help of Anchorman writer/director Adam McKay, finds his comedy niche again with Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Rick Bobby.

Similar to Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy character in Anchorman, Ricky Bobby is an egotistical but lovable dope. After the driver whose car he helped work on in his pit crew quits midway through the race, Bobby volunteers to finish for him and ends up becoming an overnight sensation.

With the help of his best friend and fellow Nascar driver Cal Naughton Jr., (John C. Reilly, The Aviator), Bobby becomes the top driver in the sport, netting himself a gorgeous wife (Leslie Bibb, “ER”), avoiding dehydration and finding shelter and millions of dollars.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Leslie Bibb, Sacha Baren Cohen

Rated PG-13 crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence

Directed by Adam McKay

Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Stater rating (out of five): ***½

But Bobby’s stardom is challenged when French Formula One driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen, “Ali G”) turns out to have the same — if not better — racing skills than Bobby. From there, the film follows the same basic plot as Anchorman, where Ferrell’s character is on top, then meets disappointment, only to discover that the things that matter most to him aren’t involved with being number one.

But when a movie opens up with a fake quote from Eleanor Roosevelt saying how American needs “hot, sweaty, bad-ass speed,” viewers should be aware that plot is nothing more than a way to string along a series of absurd, yet funny, sketches.

While the movie doesn’t reach the heights of ridiculousness that Anchorman did, there is no shortage of outrageous situations. One involves a discussion of how the characters picture Jesus when they pray to him — Bobby views him as a baby, while Naughton sees him as an angelic lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Others include an uncomfortable discussion about the difference between France and America, and Bobby trying to prove that he’s paralyzed when he clearly is not.

Talladega Nights hits more than it misses, but backfires when it relies on tired jokes, such as the overused kids-with-dirty-mouths jokes and the unsatisfied, drunk wife played by Molly Shannon, who wears off her welcome after her first scene.

Since the movie is largely improvised, it takes a good cast to keep it fresh and funny. And Talladega certainly has it. Ferrell has a blast as the Nascar-driving, Jesus-loving Ricky Bobby, while his partner Reilly works well as Bobby’s best friend. Gary Cole and Jane Lynch also appear to be having a good time playing Bobby’s estranged, drunken father and loving mother. Michael Clark Duncan and Sacha Baren Cohen are underused, but make the best of their screen time by playing two of the few characters who appear to have a grip on the real world.

Moviegoers must know what they’re getting into by going to see a Will Ferrell movie made by the same people who created Anchorman. Otherwise they may make the mistake of expecting a movie with a lot of character development, subtle jokes and an extensive plot. But much like the Nascar stereotype that no one watches races to see who wins, but rather for the crashes; you don’t see a goofy Will Ferrell movie for the plot line — you go for the laughs.

Contact features correspondent Andrew Gaug at [email protected].