The Fast and the Funniest
I should issue a disclaimer with any review I write about a Will Ferrell movie. He has the same effect on me as Jim Carrey, Lily Tomlin and Jack Black. All three make me laugh no matter what they’re involved in on screen. Ferrell’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a satiric comedy about the rise and fall -- and rise again -- of a NASCAR driver, may not contain his most humorous performance, but it’s a very funny film, mostly because Ferrell plays the lead with such a fearless comic approach.
The story of Ricky Bobby evokes memories of many classic sports films -- but none have been told so hilariously. “Ricky is a typical sports movie character,” Ferrell explains. “He came from simple beginnings and, as a boy, enjoyed the need for speed. His motto became ‘If you ain’t first, you’re last -- something his daddy taught him early in life. That meant either winning or wrecking, a go-for-broke attitude that would eventually lead to his downfall.”
After becoming a national racing hero and enjoying everything that goes along with such status, the ultra-confident Ricky crashes in more ways than one. He’s involved in a terrible racing accident, which causes him to lose his nerve, his career, his best friend (John C. Reilly) and his wife (Leslie Bibb). He takes his two sons (Huston Tumlin and Grayson Russell) and moves in with his mother (Jane Lynch). When Ricky’s mom realizes that her son is going downhill instead of improving, she calls on his estranged (and VERY strange) father (Gary Cole) to get him back into shape. She also has her hands full with her two trash-talking, crude grandsons -- but this is one smart granny, and tough love works magic on the young hooligans who’ve been allowed to run wild until moving in with her.
Although some of this crazy movie doesn’t work at all, it includes enough amusing scenes to make me forgive such unfunny nonsense as Ricky’s gay French racing rival (Sacha Baron Cohen), whose fake accent makes him practically impossible to understand, and those over-the-top crude remarks aimed at Ricky’s elderly father-in-law. “Priceless” is the word for the way Ricky insists on invoking the Baby Jesus in the grace he says before a meal as well as for images each one at the table conjures up to support his prayer. It’s also an appropriate term for how Ricky’s father uses a cougar, a blindfold and breakfast cereal in his attempts to revitalize his son’s interest in speed. And a surprising pep talk by Oscar-nominee Amy Adams (Junebug), who portrays Ricky’s shy assistant, is a real show-stopper.
Product placement in films usually upsets me, but in Talladega Nights it’s all part of the fun. “Ricky Bobby never met a product he isn’t happy to push,” declares one of the sports announcers. Ricky’s NASCAR auto is a plastered with advertisements for his sponsors -- one even comes close to blocking his vision.
In keeping with Ricky Bobby’s daring commercial spirit, I’m happy to push this entertaining movie product. Also, I advise sitting through the entire end credits of Talladega Nights in order to see a wonderful epilogue shot that should renew your faith in the younger generation.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated “PG-13” for crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence.)