Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // August 4, 2006
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted August 4, 2006
Highly Recommended
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All his life, Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) has wanted to drive fast and win races. After getting his chance to prove himself as a driver on the NASCAR circuit, Bobby thunders to the number one spot and stays there: raking in the riches, marrying a hot blonde (Leslie Bibb), and relying on the undying friendship of pal Cal (John C. Reilly). When a French driver named Jean Girard (the sublime Sacha Baron Cohen, better known to the world as Ali G and Borat) swoops in and steals Bobby's glory, the confused champ must restart his life at the bottom. Starved for inspiration, Bobby seeks the help of his friends and his deadbeat dad (Gary Cole) to climb back into the driver's seat and race again.

This is how you want Will Ferrell. After a year or so of being bewitched or trying to beef up his dramatic chops, Ferrell returns to the playground of freefalling hilarity that he was born for. No pretension, no career ambition, just Ferrell with the pedal to the metal.

"Talladega Nights" builds on what Ferrell and director/cohort Adam McKay were trying to do with their 2004 runaway fire hose "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." The duo crave absurdist comedy, and their first endeavor was irrefutably hilarious, but it was an exceedingly messy affair that allowed too many camera hog actors the freedom to do whatever they pleased for as long as they could. It was an overstuffed film that ultimately deflated under McKay's lenient control.

However, it's all been corrected for "Talladega Nights;" McKay and Ferrell have taken two steps back for this NASCAR-themed comedy, and the restraint shows. Sure, there's still the goofy stuff. For instance: to get back his racing mojo, Bobby must learn to drive with a live cougar in his car, which fills him with pants-wetting fear (he also doesn't want his treasured Crystal Gayle t-shirt ripped); and to announce his presence to Bobby's all-American racing team, Girard selects some jazz off the jukebox, which makes the squad confused, afraid, and sick to their stomachs from this alien sound.

McKay keeps every joke within reach, and there's a fenced in quality to the humor in "Talladega" that helps it reach the finish line. The picture makes room for a delicious lampooning of NASCAR idiosyncrasies (the production gets a lot of mileage out of outlandish corporate sponsorship), redneck childhood liberties, and the idea of a French gay man in a predominately testosterone-drenched sport. Ferrell and McKay display a sense of delight with Ricky Bobby's insular worldview, and this film has an appealing gentle rumble to it. Rarely is any joked shoved into the audiences' faces, and the story, as silly as it gets, is adhered to in ways that make "Anchorman" resemble a box of spilled Legos. This is a tighter, focused directing job by McKay, and he ends up with a better film for his effort.

The bottom line is this: the flick is hilarious, and should end up one of the funniest films of the year. Just to see Will Ferrell back to fighting shape is enough to recommend the film, but the production stepped up and created a comedic competitive world that's irresistible. And they achieved the unthinkable: they made NASCAR look fun.

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