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Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Note: This is a review of the 50 GB retail version of Talladega Nights. The disc bundled with the PS3 is a 25 GB movie only disc.
Will Ferrell doesn't make great movies. His films aren't important or deep, they're rather silly and lack sophistication. Of course, they're also funny, which more than makes up for their flaws. His latest film to be released to home theater, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, falls into the 'so stupid it's funny' catagory an is similar to his earlier movie Anchorman in a lot of ways: it's silly, there's a lot of improv, and even though you know it isn't high comedy, you'll find yourself laughing.
Ever since he was a kid, Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) has loved to travel fast. He was never good at school, but he always had the drive to be #1. After high school Ricky and his best friend Cal (John C. Reilly) get jobs working in a NASCAR pit crew and when the driver gets out to take a leak and grab a sandwich in the middle of a race, Ricky jumps into the car and manages to go from dead last to third place. Driving like a man possessed, Ricky Bobby starts tearing up the circuit and before you know it, he is one to the best drivers in the country.
Things all come crashing down on him though. When the new owner of Bobby's racing team recruits in a French homosexual Formula One driver just to beat Ricky, the headliner takes it badly. He gets in a wreck and has a hard time going fast after that, he's too afraid of the speed. He loses his house, his wife and kids, even his best friend, but when the chips are down his estranged father shows up to teach Ricky with Yoda-like wisdom how to overcome his fear.
Okay, so there isn't much in the way of characterization, and the plot is simple and very predictable. That's not what you expect from a Will Ferrell movie however. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and the only way to measure this movie is by the amount of laughter, and I laughed a lot. I had some friends and family over watching it with me, and we all had a good time. The jokes were silly enough and the plot just so ridiculous that it's hard not to giggle at the inane goings on. Though it's a stupid joke, how can you not laugh when someone reveals that they've named their sons "Walker" and "Texas Ranger"?
One of my favorite moments comes early in the movie when Ricky and his family are sitting down to dinner and Ricky is saying grace. His prayer to the "dear tiny infant Jesus" where he thanks him for his "red hot smokin' wife Carley, who is a stone cold fox" is hilarious and sets the tone for what's to come.
A lot of the movie is improvised and the cast works well off of each other. Some of the time it's obvious when they're just pulling lines out of nowhere, but in most of the movie it feels natural.
The biggest problem with a film of this kind is that it doesn't have much replay value. Once you've heard most of these jokes, and laughed, you're pretty much done. I can't see many people playing this over and over.
The one big gripe I had with the movie is that it's one big placement ad. From the logos on the race cars to the more overt advertising like the TV commercial for a chain restaurant in the middle of the film (!) all of the prominently displayed products get old quick. It gets so blatant that it's distracting.
I make it a point of not reading other reviews before I write up a film. I don't want myself influenced, even if subconsciously, by someone else's opinion. I broke that rule for this disc however when I read all the buzz about the poor transfer that this disc was supposed to have. I perused Peter M. Bracke's review before I received this disc but tried not to let his opinions influence me. After screening the movie I have to say, as objectively as possible, that Peter is right in his comments. The disc isn't horrible, but it does have some problems that makes it a poor candidate to show off a system. Why Sony decided to bundle a movie-only edition of this with the PS3 is beyond comprehension.
The first thing that viewers will notice about the 2.40:1 image is that it is very flat for a Blu-ray disc, and doesn't have that 3D "pop" that is always so impressive. Even in the brightly lit exterior daylight scenes the movie is two dimensional and doesn't jump out at you like many other BDs. I didn't see this in the theaters, so I can't honestly say whether this is a problem with the encoding or if it was just filmed this way (though I strongly suspect the latter.) The contrast is rather limited and the image is a bit dark in many scenes too.
However the rest of the disc looks fine. The level of detail is very good, and the blacks were solid. There wasn't any evidence of digital defects, posterization and grain, two things that have plagued Blu-ray releases, weren't a problem at all. The colors looked fine, though not as eye-popping as the best HD releases. If it wasn't for the flat appearance of the film, this would have been a nice choice to bundle with the PS3.
This film has DD 5.1 tracks in French and English as well as a 5.1 PCM uncompressed track. I screened the film with the PCM track and found it very satisfying. The race scenes were especially impressive with nice use made of the entire soundstage. The track sounds were panned nicely and it really sounded like cars were racing around the room. The movie had good dynamic range and there were some moments where the subwoofer got a good workout. A very solid audio track.
This 50GB disc has quite a few extras included with it. First off is a commentary track with director Adam McKay and actor Ian Roberts (who has a small part in the film.) These two try to parody the whole idea of movie commentary tracks, but it doesn't really work. After a few minutes their "pretending to be serious" act gets pretty old. There were a couple of good jokes, but overall this wasn't the greatest track.
The disc also has 25 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes, most of which deserve to be left of the editing floor. While some of these were mildly amusing, they wouldn't have added many laughs to the film. The amusing gag reel was much more entertaining and too short. It only runs about a minute and shows the cast flubbing their lines. The Line-o-rama is a five minute reel of alternate takes from the movie used have different lines. This was pretty funny and one of the highlights bonus section.
Will Ferrell Returns to Talladega is a five minute clip of Will yuking it up with the fans at the race track after the film was wrapped. It was basically a filler piece that wasn't mildly amusing. There are section of Ricky and Cal's Commercials and PSAs that were cut from the film. These were pretty funny and it's obvious that they had a hard time choosing which ones should make the final cut. There's also a selection of cut lines delivered by Walker and Texas Ranger, which was also funny and worth checking out.
Unfortunately the fake interviews with characters from the film weren't nearly as amusing as some of the other cut material. Oh well, you can't win them all. Similarly unimpressive is the Bonus Race Footage, which is just cars racing around the track and crashing.
While there were a lot of bonus items included, they were really hit or miss.
This is a funny film. It's not for everyone however; I know a lot of people don't find Will Ferrell's humor to their tastes, which is fine. If you enjoyed Anchorman, you'll probably find this film funny too. The disc comes with a fine sounding audio track and a lot of extras. It's just too bad that the video image didn't have more dimensionality. Because of that, I really can't recommend this Blu-ray disc. It would make a good rental though.