Dir. Adam McKay, US, 2006, 108 mins
Review by Matthew Rodgers
Will Ferrell has suffered a few poor lap times recently. Kicking and Screaming was retired early, The Producers had engine trouble, and the lamentable Bewitched never got out of the starting blocks. So with a wave of the chequered flag we welcome him back to the top of his – and the comedy – game with Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
With a pit crew assembled from Ferrell’s other quotable classic Anchorman, Talladega Nights is the story of a man whose primary function in life is to go fast; he is even born at breakneck speed in the films hilarious opening credit sequence. When the chance to race on the world famous NASCAR circuits arrives there is no stopping our backwater hero as he rises to the top of the sport, on the way collecting trophy wife Carly (Leslie Bibb) “God I hope she’s 18” and two of the most gloriously named children in cinematic history, Walker and Texas Ranger. Farrell shares the comedy podium with his best buddy Cal Naughton Jnr. (John C. Reilly), and rival French racer Jean Girard (the artist formerly known as Ali G, Sacha Baron Cohen).
Admittedly, it is a very thin premise on which to hang a series of set pieces, and one that has been echoed throughout the history of clichéd sports movies, but its worth mentioning that as well as being a belly splitting comedy Talladega Nights is also a fantastic sports film with well constructed race sequences and a genuinely thrilling climax. It’s that difference that sets it apart from the haphazard tone of director Adam McKay previous collaboration Anchorman which came across as a feature length sketch show.
The cast are universally fantastic, and Ferrell does not allow any top billing ego to suffocate the rest of the performers. John C. Reilly is untapped comedy gold with his “shake and bake” routine that may have grated in the hands of a more recognised comedian, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s effeminate Gallic driver is another example of a creation that could have gone terribly wrong but doesn’t, with hilarious (and all of these adjectives are deserved) results. Add to the starting line-up Junebug’s Amy Adams – a jack in the box of crazed quirkiness – and Gary Cole as Ricky’s morally corrupted father Reese Bobby.
Ricky Bobby himself is one of those creations that will be featured in the upper echelons of “100 greatest comedy characters” features run in countless magazines. All random improvisation, and scripted stupidity/naivety to underline Ferrell’s credentials as one of the most effortlessly funny men in Hollywood. Whether he is inflicting self pain during his mental breakdown, or being coached into tackling a Cougar by his father, you can guarantee that at least 75% of Talladega nights will be missed through tear stained eyes or inaudible dialogue due to the consistent laughter quota.
Ricky Bobby lives by the mantra “If you aint first, you’re last” and Talladega Nights is at least two circuits ahead of its nearest rival for comedy of the year and only slightly behind the leading pack as one of the best movie going experiences of 2006.