Some movies are full of deep, intellectual insights, subtle nuances and brain-gravy subtext that just yearn for discussion, dissection and analysis. These films often prove difficult to review, because there's so much there that demands attention.
And then there's a movie like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which is just a big, fat mindless exercise in out-there humor, colorful lampoonery and downright silliness. Plus it's got that absurdist bent that comes part and parcel with Will Ferrell's best experiments.
I'll make it even simpler: If you've laughed your freakin' head off during the whole of Ferrell's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, then there's a very good chance you'll dig the guy's new flick. Only probably not quite as much...
Using pretty much the same team from Anchorman, leading loon Will Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay move their patented brand of insanity from the '70s newsrooms to the NASCAR circuit of today. The broad tone, the piecemeal plot developments and the frequently freaky cameos all result in a movie where plot and logic finish a distant second to good old American wackiness. And, just like in Anchorman, the schtick works.
Will Ferrell plays hotshot race-car driver Ricky Bobby, he of the fabulous endorsements, the unbeatable winning streak, the mega-hottie wife, and the loyal best buddy. But just as Ricky's settling in to yet another winning season, he suffers a ridiculous fall from grace and finds himself a big-time loser. With his wife now married to his formerly loyal best buddy (and with the sponsors running scared), Ricky returns to his white-trash roots and discovers what it really means to be a winner...
Yeah, right. The plot synopsis is nothing more than a clothesline on which to hang a whole bunch of really raucous set-pieces, and after a string of recent misfires (including Bewitched and Kicking & Screaming) Ferrell is back in top form again. No joke is too silly, no pratfall too kooky, no underwear too constricting for Ferrell to make with the yuks, and his Ricky Bobby goes from hilariously obnoxious to bizarrely sympathetic at the drop of a hat. And the guy's flanked by a supporting cast that most comedians would want to avoid -- simply because the whole damn ensemble is funny.
As Ricky's newest rival, Sacha Baron Cohen creates an outlandishly silly French caricature who seems to have a different accent every time he speaks. The leading ladies, Leslie Bibb as the gold-diggin' Mrs. Bobby and Amy Adams as the sweethearted assistant, each get two or three moments to stand out, plus the normally intimidating Michael Clarke Duncan actually gets to deliver some solid giggles this time out. And then there's good ol' John C. Reilly as Ricky Bobby's right-hand man. It's as if Ferrell infected O'Reilly with his special brand of nen-sequiter lunacy, because John C. takes to this material as if he were an old-school comic. I was halfway through the movie before I lost count of how many scenes O'Reilly steals, so let's just say it was at least a dozen.
Alas, a few of the familiar faces get completely lost in the crowd. The one-note characters played by Greg Germann and Molly Shannon might have been better left on the cutting room floor. Gary Cole has a few great moments as Ricky's estranged papa, but his subplot manages to go nowhere fast. Cameo appearances by David Koechner, Andy Richter, and Jane Lynch are fun for their weirdness, but none of 'em are all that hilarious.
One special note of disappointment: Despite the fun I was having with Talladega Nights, I must mention that the flick is probably the most product-laden piece of entertainment I've seen since that time McDonald's bankrolled their own E.T. rip-off. The non-stop shilling for Taco Bell, Pepsi, KFC, and a dozen others becomes sort of a running gag in the film, but not a particularly funny one. Indeed, much of Talladega Nights feels like a feature-length advertisement that was lucky enough to get Will Ferrell and Adam McKay to climb aboard.
Commercial complaints aside, Talladega Nights is a smoothly, bizarrely entertaining comedy that mixes your traditional underdog farce with Ferrell's unique sense of ... strangeness. It's refreshing to see such stream-of-consciousness absurdity in anotherwise mainstream comedy flick, but the ceaseless advertising does start to suck some charm out of the affair. Either way, it's a movie the Ferrell fans will be quoting to one another for the next seven months, and that's always fun -- for the first few weeks, anyway.