a critiQal film review Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Plot: Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) was born for racing. When he suddenly gets the chance behind the wheel at a NASCAR race, he makes the most of it...until a spectacular crash leaves him unhurt, but afraid to drive fast. With his life in ruins, he's got to do whatever he can to turn his life around and defeat NASCAR newcomer Jean Girard (Cohen).

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Will Ferrell. As you may notice after reading a few of our reviews, Heather and I are not big fans of the man. With his ridiculously idiotic skits on “Saturday Night Live” (TV), we weren’t impressed in the least. Then, when he was able to make a big screen film out of one of those skits (A Night At The Roxbury), we just sighed and shook our heads, chagrined at what the movie-making world had come to.

As Will continued to churn out films (Old School (2003), Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), Bewitched, Elf (2003), etc.), we were surprised he continued to work, as he seemed to bring down every film he starred in (and they weren’t that good to begin with). Instead, we saw Will as more of a secondary star, as he didn’t do half bad in his smaller roles in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and Zoolander.

But, movie viewers these days can’t seem to get enough of fools who get paid to make fun of themselves, so Will continued his improbable film career. We kept hoping that Will would improve, but time and again, we were always let down. Still, his new film Stranger Than Fiction (2006) gave us new-found hope, as the previews look promising. So, when Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby hit DVD, we figured we’d give him another shot. Had Will finally improved, or would he receive yet another black mark in our book?

Will Ferrell seems perfectly in his element in Talladega Nights. While that’s not necessarily a compliment, Talladega Nights seems to be the movie equivalent of Will Ferrell: full of idiotic sequences so outrageously stupid the viewer can’t turn away. The viewer just can’t believe anyone thought that the direction the film goes in would make anyone laugh, and ends up laughing at the film’s incredible absurdity.

Will manages to amble through Talladega Nights without any major blunders, but his acting still resembles a car wreck. There is just something about it – maybe his acting is too dumb for some people to get, or maybe his timing is just totally off. Whatever the reason, he can’t seem to be funny no matter how hard he tries. Maybe it’s because he tries so hard to get people to laugh at him – while real comedic actors have the audience laughing with them. The good actors are in on the joke. Will Ferrell, on the other hand, is the joke.

John C. Reilly does a decent job of playing the semi-straight man to Will’s off-the-wall character, but Talladega Nights doesn’t let him stay the straight man, tossing him into utterly implausible and ridiculous situations.

And then there’s Sacha Baron Cohen. While he may have made it big recently portraying Borat and Ali G, his scenes with Will Ferrell are some of the most uncomfortable scenes seen on the big screen in quite some time. He might have sensed this going in, as he doesn’t leap into the character with as much passion as he showcased toward either Ali G or Borat.

Meanwhile, acclaimed actor Michael Clarke Duncan tries to hide, as his acting skills are put to the test just trying to keep a straight face at the utter absurdity of Talladega Nights. This is one film he will not put on his resume, and (if he’s smart) never make mention of again.

Since it’s a Will Ferrell film, the viewer is expecting a little bit of ridiculousness when they watch Talladega Nights…and the film gives them what they expect, and then multiplies that to the nth power. Every scene is filled with something so out of left field that the viewer is surprised by how completely ridiculous the film turns out to be.

Nothing is left unscathed. Horrifically stereotyping NASCAR fans (and drivers) by having Ricky Bobby’s two kids – named Walker and Texas Ranger – be the epitome of dirty-mouthed white trash, or the utter shallowness of his wife, or Ricky’s hatred of jazz and gays…that’s what the movie considers hilarious. Most of us would just consider it a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Probably the biggest surprise of the film has got to be the apparent endorsement of NASCAR. Since the film portrays the fans and drivers in such a negative light, it’s a shock to see that NASCAR has embraced it. Maybe they just hadn’t seen it yet, or figured bad publicity was better than no publicity. Whatever the reason, it’s just another reason why I’m not glued to my television set watching cars cruise around in a circle for hours on end.

Despite it’s tremendous flaws, Talladega Nights is probably the best of the Will Ferrell films..and still barely worth a rental. The fact that it is such a stupid film helps make up for it’s stereotyping – the viewer will actually believe the film is too dumb to realize it’s errors.

Because of that, if you’re in the mood for some utter ridiculousness…and “Flavor Of Love” (TV), “Being Bobby Brown” (TV) or a host of other similar celeb shows isn’t on…then Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby might actually be the movie you’re looking for.

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