Retro Reviews: Talladega Nights

I’ve always wanted to write reviews about older movies. Older meaning anything that isn’t showing in theaters anymore, be these film classics from the 50s to stuff I just saw a few years ago. This Christmas I got a pretty good haul of films in, and have been spending some time watching them with the sis. So here goes. These retro reviews will come intermittently (I hope). And now, Talladega Nights:

I was talking about SNL to my sister and mentioned Will Ferrell. She shot me a blank look (which she does a lot because I have a tendency to keep referencing stuff that I think is cool but that is pretty much irrelevant to her generation. And so I thought it was time to watch a Will Ferrell flick. His best movie is still Stranger than Fiction but it is so because it’s him trying something different and not exactly a “Will Ferrell” film (We see this also with Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, Funny People, and Spanglish).

Going over the old DVD rack it became clear that the movie to watch was Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. When people want quick words to describe a funny comedy they turn to zany, wacky, and madcap. And all those words apply perfectly to the loosely-scripted and yet tightly driven film. One gets a real sense of fun and excitement as the different actors come in and bring some of the most absurd characters to life. A standout in absurdity is the redneck stereotype of a Frenchman, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Jean Girard. His first appearance has him wrecking a bar’s mood when he replaces country music with jazz, and it winds up with him threatening to break Ricky Bobby’s arm unless he says that he loves crepes.

Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby is a typical Ferrell character. Schlubbish, overly self-assured (and then forced to go through a period of self-doubt), and just dumb enough to say the funniest things. Partnered with the brilliant John C. Reilly (man, this guy can do anything, from Chicago to The Hours to this and then the hilarious rock biopic spoof Walk Hard) who plays the dim yet loving and loyal best friend Cal, Ferrell goes on a comedic tear. Playing off of each other these two turn out performances that will leave you with a belly ache because you’ve been laughing so much.

The story of Talladega Nights isn’t much to write about. Ricky Bobby’s on the top of the world. And then he’s on the bottom of it and he has to learn how to get back on top. Simple stuff, and it seems a smart enough move to use a typical sports movie frame. No twists, not turns, like the racetrack you can see where everything is going.

And like a race, it’s not where things go, but how they happen. Hilarious scenes, like Ricky in the hospital believing that he is paralyzed and threatening to stab himself with a knife to prove it, go over just as well and as funny as the racing antics. Jokes about praying to Jesus are just as funny with the Bobby clan hunched over at the dinner table saying grace.

Obviously Talladega Nights isn’t a piece of filmmaking that meets with grand artistic standards. And yet within its genre and subgenre (comedy, sports comedy) it is extremely effective. It is laugh out loud funny without trying too hard to be. And it delivers some of the funniest performances you’ll see in such trashy flicks.

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