Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with yet another test screening review, this time for Will Ferrell's TALLADEGA NIGHTS, from the team that brought you ANCHORMAN as the TV Spots will surely soon be saying. I'm lookin' forward to this one and it sounds like they're on the right track. Gary Cole sounds great, in particular. The below review is only semi-spoilerish. Nothing major, but enough to slap a spoiler tag on it. Keep in mind that this review comes from a test screening. Comedies are especially vulnerable to the testing process as the timing has to be so precise in order to work, so keep that in your noggin' as you read. Enjoy the review!
Went to the a test screening last night of the new Will Ferrell/Adam McKay/Judd Apatow comedy TALLADEGA NIGHTS (that's the title that appeared on screen; no mention of a BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY). The movie stars Ferrell as NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby who lives by the credo "If you ain't first, you're last," John C. Reilly as Ricky's teammate, a good-hearted man who is nevertheless getting sick of second-place finishes and Sacha Baron Cohen as a gay Frenchman who hopes to find a worthy racing rival in Ricky Bobby.
The movie's plot has the same structure as other sports movies like ROCKY III, BLUE CRUSH and, yes, DAYS OF THUNDER where an athlete soars to great heights very quickly, then gets beaten or injured, sinks to depths never before imagined only to find a new trainer, work really hard and eventually claim his or her rightful place atop the sporting scene's highest mountain top. TALLADEGA NIGHTS hits all of these story beats, but also tweaks or sends them up making it feel kind of like an elongated SOUTH PARK episode. Things don't descend into a ZAZ-like parody thanks to some rather dark humor ("My Grandma's turning 80 this year. What should I get her for her birthday?" "A coffin.") and a highly charismatic cast.
Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly have great chemistry and do nice riffs on good ol' boys. Farrell isn't quite as over the top as the trailer led me to believe which I liked. Definitely dialed down from ANCHORMAN. Sacha Baron Cohen's character is a combination of Borat and Bruno (which I didn't think was possible). He has one great scene where he threatens to break Ferrell's arm, but after that he isn't really given much to do. And that, unfortunately is a problem that afflicts the rest of the giant cast. There are too many actors and not enough material to go around. So, what you end up with are people like Michael Clarke Duncan and Amy Adams getting one really funny scene then disappearing for the rest of the movie. At least they fare better than Andy Richter and David Koechner who literally have nothing to do and maybe 120 seconds of combined screentime. Three cheers for Gary Cole, though, as Ricky's self-destructive, alcoholic father who shows up to retrain Ricky how to drive. A Reese Bobby he owns every scene he is in (hell, even scenes he isn't in) and conclusively answers the question, "Is there anything Gary Cole can't do?" (That would be no.)
The cut our audience saw ran a little under two hours and slowed down in the middle, especially during scenes where the actors were improvising and the filmmakers just left everything in, I suspect, to see what a laugh and what didn't. That stuff should be trimmed considerably.
The story beats and character arcs in TALLADEGA NIGHTS, while visible from miles away, are well-executed and satisfying. That said, it is a silly Will Ferrell comedy and won't hook you emotionally in the same way that THE 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN did. Still, I liked it better than ANCHORMAN.