For installment numero trés in our ‘Movies that Really Move’ segment on TBT, let’s switch up the genres and go to comedy, having spent some time with some solid entries into drama last week with Speed, and the week before with Days of Thunder. This movie speaks for itself and needs very little introduction, but I will say this: today’s entry is probably my second or third favorite Will Ferrell film. Although he doesn’t do anything substantially different from his other goofy roles, what he chooses as his subject matter here is perfect. Making light of the NASCAR circuit is always a good time. (Leave it to Ferrell to find nothing at all sacred, I know.) Even still, I thought this to be a relatively intelligent film compared to some other ridiculous full-length-feature SNL skits that he’s put out for public consumption. It’s by no means an award-contender, but hey, if you ain’t first, you can be second, third; hell. . . .you can even be fifth, right?
Today’s food for thought: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Release: August 4, 2006
The above photo shows a visibly distressed Ricky Bobby, as he attempts to free himself of the medical limitations placed upon him and his job as a top NASCAR racer, after a scuffle in a bar resulted in him getting his arm broken. (This was upon his request, mind you.) He attempts to cut through the cast to prove he’s ready, both physically and mentally, to take on the challenge posed by the presence of a new driver on the track — a Formula One driver who has just made the transition to the sport of left-turns.
Ricky could have surrendered to this new threat peaceably and told the guy what he wanted to hear in that bar that fateful night (something about crêpes), but no; his ego was simply too huge, and instead he gets his arm broken over a pool table. This moment is one of a select few that epitomizes the selfishness of Ferrell’s rowdy southern driver personality.
Ricky Bobby is the best there is, and he knows it. A considerable portion of the first half of the film shows him touting the fact he’s untouchable. Bobby, along with long-time race partner and Wonderbread teammate Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly), have it made in NASCAR. An unstoppable duo of talented racers, Ricky is that guy whose dad never allowed him to accept anything less than the No. 1 position. It is from his father (Gary Cole) he’s had this impression that in life “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” and hence, his seemingly perfect track record. As his partner, Cal sits by and quietly accepts taking second place to Ricky’s fame and fortunes, never wanting to cause disruption in the relationship.
It is when this newcomer, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), puts his foot to the pedal that a rift begins to slowly form in Ricky and Cal’s friendship; a clash of the egos that escalates once Ricky gets involved in a bad crash during a race and loses his confidence. (One of my favorite moments is his psychotic breakdown in which he yells out for help from Tom Cruise — now, I’m wondering, is that a shout-out to Days of Thunder or just a random, funny throw-away line?) Ricky soon discovers his name is slowly being forgotten now that his teammate has suddenly got a chance at the limelight. Aaaaaaand cue the unsportsmanlike conduct.
Talladega Nights comfortably leans on the same Adam McKay-Will Ferrell formula that has propelled both careers since their days on Anchorman (McKay’s debut film, and arguably one of Ferrell’s most successful full-length feature adaptations of his SNL slapstick to date). However, Talladega Nights proves that the formula is working reasonably well. In order to enjoy said films or if you’re trying to figure out whether you’re going to enjoy a particular Ferrell film, the process is really quite simple.
Plug in the ridiculous cast of characters; a plot that first shows the lead roles to be some sort of supremely confident, talented individual, but as time goes on their unwillingness to change or adapt to new situations proves problematic; then sit back and watch as Ferrell’s character (and any other central character close to him) tries to figure out how to best adapt, while getting the girl at the same time. Time and again, these have all proven to be the nuts and bolts of the McKay-Ferrell comedy vehicle. Nothing out of the ordinary with Talladega Nights in this regard.
However, being bolstered by memorable supporting performances from an always-hilarious Gary Cole as Ricky’s awful father, and similarly the zany mother-figure in Jane Lynch’s Lucy Bobby, Talladega Nights is stronger competition than one might expect, especially given how ruthlessly self-centered Ricky Bobby first appears. The fierce spirit of competition readily invites Ferrell’s sense of humor, as well, and this helps fuel the film’s staying power just a tad.
Recommendation: For Ferrell fans, it’s a must. Though this film is more or less relegated to the crowd-pleasing versions of his shtick, there are many good laughs here and there and its all in the name of good, simple fun. And it’s probably the second most-quoted film of his, behind Anchorman, of course.
Running Time: 110 mins.
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