Thursday, September 20, 2012

More Funny Than Not, Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby Amuses.

The Good: Funny parody, Opens John C. Reilly up to comedy beautifully, Decent DVD bonus features
The Bad: Some predictable humor, pacing
The Basics: Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby might not be a perfect comedy, but it has a lot of humor that endures from the broad attacks on NASCAR/NASCAR culture!

When one becomes involved romantically with another, they tend to share things. I think that is actually one of the more exciting aspects of relationships and I have found myself more delighted than not to share my DVD collection with my partner and have my partner share DVDs with me. This has led me to watch any number of movies - mostly comedies - that I would not have otherwise checked out. Indeed, when I sat down to watch the copy of Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby from my partner's shelf, I did so with the thought that this was one of the last movies in the world that I would have guessed I would ever watch.

That said, this Will Ferrell comedy that saw Ferrell pairing with one of my favorites - John C. Reilly - actually was amusing and offered enough for me to watch it not just once, but pretty much whenever my partner sits down to watch it. If that's not love, I don't know what is! In truth, though, Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby does what it sets out to do; it is funny and the performers in it get behind their roles in completely convincing ways. In other words, despite any of the movie's faults, I laughed . . . a lot. This is, at the very least, what one ought to demand of their comedies and the truth is, I had fun watching this movie.

Growing up without a father, NASCAR racer Ricky Bobby feels the need for speed and does little in his life well outside race cars. With his hot wife, Carley, and best friend Cal Naughton Jr., Ricky Bobby wins every race he is put into. But when a French Formula One driver comes to America to race Ricky Bobby, Bobby and Naughton feel threatened. Engaging the Frenchman in a race, Bobby's car is damaged and he is psychologically wounded, arguably also as a result of his deadbeat dad showing back up in his life.

Recovering from his failure to beat the Frenchman, Ricky Bobby works his way back from losing everything to try to race again. In the process, Cal takes his wife, wins a race on his own and Ricky Bobby must learn to stand on his own two feet (not as much of a problem given that his crash did not actually break his legs). As he comes back from incredible odds, he learns the true value of friendship and romance and racing.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby is, at its core, a parody of the sports movies where the protagonist struggles against very real obstacles and odds to overcome adversities that illustrate their prowess and skill. Writers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (who directed the film) picked the perfect sport to make a parody of sports movies with. Ricky Bobby is part of a national phenomenon where people sit and watch other people drive fast in a circle. Having been a runner, I can understand racing around a track (though cross country was always more interesting as a runner than track was) and the athleticism involved. But NASCAR racing is much more about equipment and avoiding other contestants than anything having to do with skill or even willpower. As a result, characters like Ricky Bobby who are hapless idiots make for probable and fun protagonists in movies just like this one. In other words, by picking NASCAR to make fun of, writer/director McKay hits a goldmine; the struggle back to greatness is as simple and witless as the task of getting to "greatness" in the first place.

Ricky Bobby, then, is a great protagonist for just such a struggle of ridiculous proportions. Bobby possesses no special skills, but a desire to go fast and his complete pursuit of that goal. Moreover, because Ricky Bobby surrounds himself with doormats like Carley and Cal, he is able to achieve greatness equally through his own efforts and those of others not improving themselves. So, because Cal promises to let Ricky Bobby win and he is content to be in second place for years, Ricky Bobby becomes a celebrity. Cal enjoys the light near the spotlight and Cal enjoys the vicarious benefits of winning. But when Cal challenges the dynamic and Ricky Bobby is challenged by the Frenchman and the reappearance of his father, the utter lack of skill that got Ricky Bobby where he ended up becomes pretty evident.

Obvious comedies have to be looked at for exactly what they are and Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby does not promise to be anything either terribly unique or extraordinarily complex. Instead, it takes a simple premise - mocking sports movies and NASCAR culture - and running with it. Will Farrell is the perfect performer to embody such a quirky and dim sports figure and he hams it up, though in truth this is not an exceptional leap from his caricature of George W. Bush. As Ricky Bobby, Ferrell screws up his face in a blank expression and looks confused for laughs. Between that and selling such gags as telling off his father-in-law when his children act up at the dinner table, Farrell reminds viewers why he is considered a wonderful comedian without truly offering the viewer anything new outside delivering new lines.

The person who does rock Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby is actor John C. Reilly. Perfect as a dramatic heavy, Reilly becomes the ultimate costar for Ferrell by playing off him and accenting Ferrell's absurd sense of physical comedy with a strong deadpan ability. Reilly is surprisingly adept with his comic timing, something bound to surprise fans of his more respected works. Together Reilly and Ferrell lead the supporting cast of Sacha Baron Cohen, David Koechner, and Gary Cole to a good number of laughs.

On DVD, the movie has a decent number of bonus features, including a commentary track and a number of deleted scenes. There are alternate takes which are certainly not appropriate for the PG-13 audience, but the movie is not exactly oriented toward that market anyway. The DVD has enough in the way of featurettes and comedic gags to make the DVD worthwhile for comedy fans.

But the movie is predictable and the humor is not classy. But for those looking for sophomoric and fun, Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby actually delivers and it makes good use of talented performers who pull out the stops to entertain!

For other works with Gary Cole, please check out my reviews of:
Psych - Season 3
Pineapple Express
The West Wing
Office Space


For other films, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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