Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) and his childhood friend, Cal Naughton (John C. Reilly), are the number one and two drivers in NASCAR, with the incomparable Bobby finishing first in every race. Working as a team, the gallant duo is feared by the competition and loved dearly by the public. When a flashy French Formula One driver named Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) challenges Bobby for the NASCAR crown, the golden boy of stock car racing suddenly finds himself threatened. As he begins to question his own actions and faces his innermost demons, Bobby must fight to maintain his top ranking.
In anyone else’s hands, the plot description would apply to a melodramatic and pompous Hollywood motion picture, but just one glimpse at the cast immediately brings a smirk to my face. The director, Adam McKay, built up his resume through a series of hilarious and original short films for Saturday Night Live. His frequent star in the flicks, the gifted Will Ferrell, also played the title role in McKay’s feature film debut, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, one of the funniest comedies in recent years. Since his naked jogging scene in Old School, Ferrell has really been on a tear with a string of attention-grabbing performances. Even generic family comedies like Elf and Kicking & Screaming have been elevated thanks to the quality of his contribution. Ferrell made the awkward man-child Buddy in Elf, not only hysterical, but also believable, which is really saying something. With films like Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda already to his credit, and roles in future releases like Marc Forster’s (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) Stranger Than Fiction and David Mamet’s (House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner) Joan of Bark, Ferrell is no longer just a great comedian. He is quickly becoming a respectable actor, comparable to the most successful SNL veterans like Bill Murray or Steve Martin. With Talladega Nights, he’s returning to the type of material that he knows best, looking to bounce back from last summer after the disappointing Bewitched.
The film features a talented supporting cast that should certainly help Ferrell carry the weight. The versatile John C. Reilly (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Chicago, The Aviator), not usually known for his comedy, should be an excellent contrast to Ferrell’s dynamic personality. Reilly can bring some restrained and peculiar humor to the pathetic Cal, a man who’s always second best. The unpredictable Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s better known to millions as the eccentric Ali G, is a potential scene-stealer here. A modern day Andy Kaufman, Cohen immerses himself in his characters. His silly Kazakhstanian alter ego Borat on “Da Ali G Show,” is a marvelous creation. Equipped with a vast imagination, Cohen could conceive another memorable character and even steal the spotlight from Ferrell.
For anyone who’s wondering, the title Talladega Nights is derived from the name of the famous racing track in Alabama. It’s kind of a strange movie title, but I guess the phrasing and the use of a colon is McKay’s personal preference, judging by what he also called his previous comedy. In addition, Talladega Nights and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy will probably be similar in timing and style. Like Anchorman, the film should allow the audience to laugh at people too self-absorbed to see their own amusing nature. In a story where characters will undoubtedly profess endless self-love and exude unparalleled macho confidence, expect Ferrell to shine as he hams it up once again. Playing men with laughably enormous egos is his forte and he will not be embarrassed for even a moment to make a total fool of himself. Like Ferrell, Cohen has already demonstrated his unique talent at portraying zany foreigners on “Da Ali G Show.” Personally, I can’t wait to see what he will do with the Frenchman racer, Jean Girard. Although he is already famous thanks to his television antics, this should be a breakout movie role for Cohen, guaranteeing more offers for the future. With the competitive world of NASCAR providing the framework for the story and talented actors given carte blanche to invent outlandish characters, this should be a very interesting blend, indeed.
This is a winning combination of all the elements that are needed for a good, successful comedy. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby has a promising plot, a terrific cast, and a capable director. Anyone with a sense of humor should have a rousing time watching this story unfold on screen. There’s lots of potential here for some truly cheesy and unforgettable absurdity. Already lacking the good reputation of other high profile sports events, NASCAR racing will probably lose a few more points in the process.