What is it about these movies? Why is it that I can laugh almost to the point of having a bladder-related accident at a myriad of mindless entertainments like Anchorman? Until now I have not been able to put my finger on it. But upon screening Will Ferrell’s latest venture Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, I finally figured it out.
It has very little to do with Ferrell or even director Adam McKay separately, as it is the combination of the two that creates the humor that keeps me rolling in my seat. It is something special to behold, as a director-actor team very rarely strikes twice with two movies that are so similar in nature. But that is exactly what they have done, only this time it's at the expense of America’s number one spectator sport.
Any American in the know understands that there is something about NASCAR racing that appeals to a lot of people – we just can’t figure out what it is. The sport is generally a bunch of guys in fast cars constantly turning left. What really draws the crowds, though, is the potential of the big wreck, and that is what has pushed NASCAR’s popularity to the top of American sports.
But that popularity has caused the sport to get a little ridiculous, putting the drivers up on a pedestal for all to see. This has paved the way for the drivers to show off their “tact” and “intelligence” to the world, and it has also created a huge market for advertisers, as the cars themselves have become moving billboards. And that brings us to the point of a movie like Talladega Nights — to make fun of NASCAR and all of its crazy but loyal fans.
Of course, when you combine that premise with a team like Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, you have a recipe for one hilarious film. Together they penned the screenplay about Ricky Bobby (Farrell), a man who lives his life by the phrase “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” It's that phrase that carries Ricky to the top of NASCAR and into the spotlight.
But when his racing team, owned by the slithering Larry Dennit, Jr. (played by Ally McBeal’s Greg Germann) decides to go in another direction and bring on European superstar driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), Ricky is put into a competitive frenzy. The frenzy ends with a horrific accident that puts Ricky out of the game.
The rest of the story is a hilarious tale of self-affirmation and redemption as Ricky Bobby tries to repair broken relationships with his deadbeat father (Gary Cole), his best friend (John C. Reilly), and everyone else who has ever truly believed in him. If it weren’t such a funny film, it would be your average melodramatic redemption story. But that’s what makes it so great, because it is so funny that you can easily disregard the lackluster plot.
As for Will Ferrell, he is hysterical as usual, but it is those who surround him that really deliver the humor. For me, this is where the touch of director Adam McKay really shines through, in the excellence of the supporting cast. John C. Reilly has an amazing balance with Ferrell, and their onscreen relationship delivers tons of laughs with its dysfunction.
Academy Award nominee Amy Adams, who plays Ricky Bobby’s personal assistant, is truly a gift to this picture; even though she has minimal screen time and a relatively small role at first, it is her performance that breathes life into the story late in the film, keeping us interested for the big finale. Without her adorable and infectious personality, this film may have lost some of the audience about two thirds of the way in.