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The Independent Critic

Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Leslie Bibbs
Adam McKay
Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Rated PG-13
105 Mins.
 "Talladega Nights" Review 
Is "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" a classic American comedy?

Ummm. Nope.

Is "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" the best comedy I've seen this year?

Ummmm. Nope, I can't say that it is.

What is "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" then?

That's simple. It's Will Ferrell.

If you enjoy Will Ferrell comedies, then you will enjoy "Talladega Nights." In fact, if you've enjoyed ANY of Will Ferrell's comedies then you are likely to find something here you will enjoy.

This, his second cinematic collaboration with Adam McKay ("Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" being the first), is similar in tone, look, attitude and comedy to their first film together and features Ferrell's trademarks of physical comedy, fearless antics and Sandleresque mix of lightweight sentimentality and over-the-top stupidity.

By now, if you don't know the basic storyline of "Talladega Nights" then you probably are not a Will Ferrell fan. The film offers a take on the NASCAR circuit featuring Ferrell as Ricky Bobby, a young man who stumbles into a chance to drive a race whose fearlessness takes him to the top of his sport and on top of his smokin' wife (Leslie Bibbs). A potentially career-ending crash causes him to lose everything, and a more brash, even more fearless driver (Sacha Baron Cohen) takes his place at the top of NASCAR.

What, oh what, will happen?

C'mon. This is a Will Ferrell comedy. There's no suspense. Ricky Bobby will bounce back, be ever so slightly humbled and end up a better human being for it all. Do you really expect a Will Ferrell comedy where Will Ferrell doesn't end up on top? Please!

"Talladega Nights," however, isn't so much about the journey, the plot, the story or the suspense. It's about the jokes...the sarcastic comments, subtle jibs, long and drawn-out situations and the way Ricky Bobby relates to everyone in his life.

The storyline? Who really cares, anyway?

Ferrell, who has been stretching himself lately by appearing in a Woody Allen film and "Winter Passing," returns to the kind of film that bankrolls his indie pet projects with "Talladega Nights." This isn't meant to be great cinema, and it's almost comical to consider that a critic's opinion even matters here...This is a Will Ferrell comedy. It's funny. It's silly. It's pointless. It's funny. Have I mentioned it's funny?

Perhaps Ferrell's increasing power at the box-office is evident in the quality of his supporting players, but the lack of storyline is made almost irrelevant thanks to Ferrell's marvelous chemistry with the likes of John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Amy Adams, Gary Cole and the aforementioned Cohen.

Reilly, who we're really not used to seeing like this, is downright hilarious as Cal, Ricky's best friend and right-hand man. Reilly alone elevates the film above mediocrity with an earnest, dry presentation that perfectly balances Ferrell's outlandishness. The same could be said for Gary Cole, as Ferrell's malt-liquored up daddy, whose stunning ability to deliver mind-alteringly deadpan humor without even a semblance of facial expression is put to perfect use here.

On the flip side, the scenes between Cohen, who plays almost the anti-Bobby (or "Booby!" as he says), are alive with hilariously stupid electricity. Cohen plays Jean Girard, a gay French-speaking, Camus reading driver whose brash driving quickly makes him a circuit favorite. Cohen and Ferrell play off each other hilariously, while Cohen gets a counter-balance opposite his lover (played deliciously by Andy Richter).

The rest of the supporting cast, while funny, is largely under-utilized. Most notably, Amy Adams and Molly Shannon seem sadly under-used. For Adams, however, what an ideal career move to follow her Oscar-nominated performance in last year's "Junebug" with a sure-fire supporting role in a guaranteed money-making machine.

"Talladega Nights," for most, will be a notch below "Anchorman." I, on the other hand, would place it a slight notch above...this may very well be simply due to my being from Indianapolis, a noted racing city. It may very well be due to my being in a racing mood with the "Brickyard 400" this weekend...or, it may be simply because I adore Will Ferrell, and unlike "Anchorman," this film is nearly all about Ferrell and his interpretation of Ricky Bobby.

"Talladega Nights" has a slightly higher number of jokes that miss, however, the jokes that hit are often extremely funny. Whereas even the look of "Anchorman" didn't quite rest well with me, "Talladega Nights" pokes fun at NASCAR by vividly, and pretty darn accurately, recreating its atmosphere.

So, there you have it.

"Talladega Nights" is a Will Ferrell comedy. If you love Will Ferrell, as I do, then "Talladega Nights" will make you laugh without making you lose too many brain cells. If, on the other hand, you've never quite enjoyed a Ferrell film then "Talladega Nights" isn't going to change your mind.

"Talladega Nights" is the perfect summer movie, a light-hearted, occasionally heart-warming and frequently funny film about Ricky Bobby...a man so great he's got his own ballad! 
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic