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One spy hitches a ride with Ricky Bobby in TALLADEGA NIGHTS!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with another test screening review of TALLADEGA NIGHTS, which has apparently dropped all mention of Ricky Bobby in the title. I love me my ANCHORMAN, so I hope to love this one just as much. The usual yadda-yadda about early test screening reviews here... not finished, comedy depends on timing, etc. You know the drill. Enjoy the review with... say, lukewarm spoilers... below!!!

I just got back from the Sherman Oaks Galleria here in California and a test screening of the new Will Ferrell movie, Talladega Nights (“The Story of Ricky Bobby” is nowhere to be found onscreen).

First, a brief plot synopsis: Will Ferrell plays a cocky celebrity who has it all--friends, women, accolades--until someone new comes into his world and takes his place to become number one. This causes Ferrell’s character to question his abilities until wait, that was the plot of Anchorman, you say? Well, I hoped you liked that plot, because here it is again! Will Ferrell is Ricky Bobby, famed NASCAR driver, whose father (the amazing Gary Cole) was absent for most of Ricky’s childhood (except a very funny scene during Career Day at Ricky’s school as a side note, could there be a moratorium on Career Days to set up parent-child relationships in movies? Jersey Girl, City Slickers, Thank You For Smoking it’s cute, but let’s give it a rest for a while).

Anyway, Ricky Bobby eventually grows up, becomes the best NASCAR driver around, and along with his friend Cal (the very funny John C. Reilly), always wins races and tons of money. He has a hot wife, two horrible kids, and no cares in the world. Until Jean Girard (Sascha Baron Cohen), the gay French Formula 1 racer, comes into his world and takes over the top spot. After Ricky gets in a horrible wreck, he loses his nerve and leaves the sport to become a pizza delivery boy. Will he regain his abilities? Will his deadbeat dad come back to help him out? Will his best friend betray him by marrying his hot wife in an amusing subplot? Will he beat Jean Girard?

Who cares? If you’re reading this review, then you’re interested in this movie (presumably). And if you’re interested in this movie, then you’re either interested in a Will Ferrell comedy (a la Anchorman, not like Bewitched), NASCAR racing, or big summer comedies. So will it matter if I discuss the occasionally sloppy editing (it was a rough cut, though), the 2.40:1 widescreen framing, or the bland directing? No.

The point is, the movie is funny. Yes, there are certainly those obviously-improv jokes that go on too long, and the Will Ferrell “I am saying what is happening for humorous effect” jokes. But all in all, it’s an entertaining comedy that I felt was more accomplished than Anchorman. It does drag slightly after the big wreck in the middle of the movie, but it picks up. With the summer being somewhat dry in terms of comedy (Click and Strangers With Candy are all that comes to mind at the moment), this movie might be a nice alternative to superheroes and under performing superstars.

I am not a NASCAR fan, nor do I watch any racing, but the driving action in the movie seemed just okay. Some of the driving stunts were well done, but it often felt like big things would happen off screen (maybe some effects have yet to be put in?), and it was occasionally difficult to tell what was happening and which car was which but it was serviceable.

The acting was well done all around. Will Ferrell was very funny (and I’m not a Will Ferrell apologist), as were his on-screen kids. Sascha Baron Cohen was, as always, excellent (though being French isn’t as funny as they think it is). John C. Reilly was his usual amusing, clueless on-screen self. But as I mentioned before, Gary Cole is a comedy genius and should hereby be placed in all films from now on. As Ricky Bobby’s runaway father, he gets at least a chuckle every time he’s on screen.

So then what’s bad that might actually affect one’s enjoyment of the movie? There’s a lame, forced romance two thirds of the way into the movie that was entirely unnecessary and not set up in the slightest. And oddly enough, right before the climactic race, the writers completely let Sascha Baron Cohen’s character off the hook in terms of being a bad guy. In other words, while he wasn’t ever set up as the typical “completely bad opponent” in the movie, they make it so, in a way, Sascha Baron Cohen actually wants Ricky Bobby to win the final race which, while it sort of worked, was still an odd choice to make, tension-wise.

And as for the egregious amount of product placement I’m going to give the movie the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s making a point with the extreme amount of it throughout the movie (I mean, an Applebee’s commercial literally plays at one point in the movie). I can only hope that it’s satire.

But all in all, the movie is funny and worth at least a matinee screening with some friends. However, one does hope that the next time Will Ferrell makes a movie, it has a different plot.

If you use this, call me Skoobooz.

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