Here's the inimitable Vern with a look at TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY - a film I really, really enjoyed (the racing sequences were surprisingly well done, too!)
What does Vern think? Read on...
I don't usually review these "comedy" type movies for you guys but I felt like maybe I should do this one just to show some of my talkback pals that I do know how to laugh and have a good time, etc. I think last time I reviewed a comedy for you guys it was the fucking WEDDING CRASHERS movie and I caught some hell in the talkbacks for saying that it was "something your friend's girlfriend who you hate would claim is really good." Of course, America is in a vulnerable state right now so she quickly fell in love with the movie and they are still happily married. So I was very wrong when I said nobody would remember it two weeks after it came out on video. Even I still remember the movie and how much you motherfuckers are crazy for thinking it's good.
TALLADEGA NIGHTS THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY I knew was gonna be more of a straight ahead type-A type of comedy where they actually try to make you laugh from beginning to end instead of pretending that you give a shit if the characters are able to be together despite their crazy misunderstandings and all that horse shit. But I was a little bit skeptical because NASCAR seems like kind of an obvious target, the ads didn't seem all that funny and what the fuck is with these titles, ANCHORMAN THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY/TALLADEGA NIGHTS THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY... what, you boys can't come up with a new rhythm for your title? Plus, what kind of a name is Ricky Bobby, that doesn't even sound like a real name.
But there was no reason to fear, TALLADEGA NIGHTS THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY is indeed a high quality comedy, well executed with many laughs, etc. Will Ferrell (CURIOUS GEORGE) plays Ricky Bobby, a borderline retarded dude who drives the fastest. Academy award nominee John C. Reilly plays Cal Naughton, Jr., Ricky's borderline retarded best friend who drives the second fastest. And you can imagine where it would go from there.
It has kind of a mythic feel because it opens with Ricky being born in the back of a speeding car, continues through his childhood when all he ever says is "I wanna go fast!" and then quickly gets to his reign as the #1 NASCAR driver, sponsored by Wonder Bread, sporting a skanky trophy wife and two scary hellion kids named Walker and Texas Ranger. This is all funny, but the movie really gets into gear (get it, that is some kind of a car pun I believe) when it introduces a rival for Ricky Bobby. Jean Girard (Sacha "the Baron" Cohen) represents the stereotypical opposite of Ricky Bobby the stereotypical middle american dumbass. Girard is a married, gay, thick-accented, French Formula One racer who menaces the Americans by playing jazz on their juke box. Cohen is the best one in a really good cast. He makes a hilarious villain, somehow managing to be ridiculously over-the-top and perfectly restrained at the same time. Shit, I guess I'll finally have to rent those Ali G DVDs everybody claims are so funny. This guy is great.
And then the movie takes a left turn (get it, cars) when Ricky crashes, becomes afraid of invisible fire and ends up under the Pai Mei or Mr. Miyagi style cruel tutelage of his deadbeat dad, played by Gary Cole (A SIMPLE PLAN). This was one of my favorite parts because the dad comes up with some completely retarded ways to teach Ricky wise life lessons about driving, but if you think about it they're not all that exaggerated from the way they do this kind of thing in a serious movie. I mean come on Mr. Miyagi, you know Daniel-San is assistant manager at a car wash somewhere and not a karate champion. You didn't teach him shit.
Like I said it's a good cast, and there's another Oscar nominee in there besides Reilly (Amy Adams), but I would like to single out child actor #1 and child actor #2, who play Ricky's sons. These kids are hilarious, first as some foul mouthed little bastards and then they're even funnier when they have a profound change in life. They could've gotten away with the one-note joke of having them as little GUMMO type shitheads, but they go the extra mile. (a mile is a distance that a car drives, get it)
I should mention that I don't know jack shit about NASCAR. As far as I could tell this was not like KINGPIN where the directors are obsessed with the sport and throw in celebrity cameos and shit. It seemed like a reasonable portrayal but not as fetishistically detailed as this summer's other NASCAR movie, the cartoon CARS. Did you guys see that one? It was pretty good but it kind of freaked me out. I still feel sad that there was a train in the movie. All the cars get to drive around wherever they want, this fuckin train probaly has to stay on the tracks his entire life, delivering coal back and forth. It's such bullshit, man. Why should anybody be born into that?
But I know what you're asking, how does it compare to FAST AND THE FURIOUS TOKYO DRIFT. Well I was wondering the same thing but honestly these are not very similar movies. TALLADEGA NIGHTS THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY does have a show-offy digital shot where the camera floats through the back window of his speeding car, rotates around his head and then goes out the front window, but it does not go through the engine like it would if it was a part of the Furious Movement. So it's totally different.
Also this might not jump as quickly to mind as a comparison, but it is the same team that made ANCHORMAN THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY so I'll compare it to that one too. For me personally, and maybe not for you, I think this one is better. I am not prepared to measure them on a laugh-to-laugh basis, either by laugh-to-not-laugh ratio or by measurement of laugh size. Both are very funny. But to me the randomness of the plotting in ANCHORMAN THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY made it kind of feel like a series of sketches stapled together instead of an actual story. I know people liked that about it but personally I thought some of it was less funny because it felt like they were trying too hard to be weird or outrageous. For example I didn't think that whole anchorman gang war was as funny as everybody else did. TALLADEGA NIGHTS THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY has jokes that are just as unexpected, but I think they grow more organically out of the story and the world that it takes place in.
TALLADEGA NIGHTS THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY also has a little more of a satirical point to it, if you're into that sort of thing. Ricky Bobby sort of represents America at its dumbest. His whole life is based around a competitive philosophy that he later learns was just something his dad said when he was high. But you can recognize it as a cartoonified version of an actual "winners vs. losers" attitude that real people take seriously. Ricky doesn't have any romanticized philosophy about the art of racing, he just wants to make car go fast and be declared #1. He takes advantage of his best friend, he disrespects his elders, he has a hollow relationship with his wife, he's ignorant of foreign countries and hostile towards outsiders. He's a joke-hero for the Bush years, covered in corporate sponsors, hating the French, fearing gay marriage, but thinking he's great because he's the best at driving fast. Ferrell's accent reminds you sometimes of the way he used to play Bush on Saturday Night Live, and please note that his sons are named after Bush's favorite TV show. There's even a reference to Halliburton in here. But it's all very lighthearted, it's not like it gets preachy. I think I just blew the dickhead whistle as far as the talkbacks go but that's genuinely what the movie is about I think.
I do have a few qualms about it though, the movie is pretty insulting toward NASCAR fans, middle America, etc. I kind of thought that they would pull their punches to get cooperation from NASCAR. Thankfully, for comedy's sake, they didn't. But maybe if I was into that shit I would be a little bothered that they portray most of these people as such fucking morons. I'm sure there must be plenty of intelligent people who enjoy cars driving fast, just like you and I are intelligent people who enjoy Steven Seagal films and that movie TORQUE. And there is a little bit of a classist vibe in here too. So what if somebody considers Applebee's gourmet? I never been there before but I got more respect for a family that eats at Applebee's than these "foodies" who will spend thirty, forty bucks for a goat meat entree or some shit. I mean come on man, don't you know you're just gonna shit that out later?
So it is a little cruel but there's a certain amount of affection there too, they don't really make fun of the fans of NASCAR, and I think most of them would have a sense of humor about it anyway. Plus, it's not like Girard is painted in any more positive light than Ricky. And Michael Clarke Duncan, as the head of Ricky's crew, seems like a reasonable person.
But obviously the most important thing is it made me laugh alot. There were no serious montages of people falling in love, riding bikes or holding hands on the beach. I don't remember too many jokes falling flat. They even managed to avoid having cameos for Ben Stiller or Owen Wilson. I'm sure those guys assumed they were in it and showed up, but they didn't make the final cut. Will Ferrell does find a way to run around in his underwear twice, but otherwise they don't really fall back on old easy formulas.
Important warning: the title is misleading. Pretty much the entire movie takes place during the day time. I don't remember one scene showing Talladega at night, or even dusk. So if that's the reason you want to see it, stay away. Other than that though I recommend it.