August 4, 2006

Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby

talladegaI first heard about this movie last year. I read somewhere that the "pitch" for this movie was simply "Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver". I thought it had lots of potential. A few months later, my expectations were lowered by some underwhelming TV commericals. Those low expectations were blown away by this overly funny NASCAR comedy from the team which brought us Anchorman. Ferrell and director Adam McKay worked with a framework of a story (the rise and fall and rebirth of a single-minded NASCAR driver) and shot every scene with an infinite number of comedy permutations. After shooting was complete, McKay had the unenviable task of making a movie out of the results, without looking like the gag reel at the end of the Cannonball Run movies. The results are fantastic-- I am sure they could re-release the movie with all-new jokes for every scene and it would be equally funny.

I would like to single out for praise John C. Reilly, who has been funny before (Boogie Nights and The Good Girl come to mind), but never as sweet and goofy as Ricky Bobby's whipping boy Cal Naughton Jr, aka "The Magic Man". Possibly saving this movie from a B- or C+ is Sacha Baron Cohen as Ricky Bobby's gay French nemesis, Jean Girard. He works his Clouseau-style French accent and completely non-sequitir bon mots ("Hakuna Matata, beetches!") for the ultimate in comedy effect. A guy with a funny French accent is always funny. I almost take Gary Cole for granted-- he works the long-lost father (think Robert Duvall in Days of Thunder, except a drunken thief) for every joke possible. We especially appreciated his drunken rants when getting kicked out of an Applebee's, and Ricky's junior high school...

One of the unfortunate side effects of the "shoot 1,000 jokes" method of moviemaking is that some characters inadvertently get the short end. Amy Adams may have had a Nicole Kidman-in-Days-Of-Thunder-type role in the screenplay, but in the final cut, she is reduced to two brief appearances in the first hour of the movie, then one very funny monologue at the end of the movie. Another character who must have had more meaty scenes deleted is Ricky's wife Carley Bobby (Leslie Bibb). She is in many scenes of the movie, but there isn't one big meaty part which showcases her.

I have a problem in principle with making a movie by hanging a bunch of funny scenes on a bare bones storyline, but in practice, I loved it. A minus. (AMC Fenway, with Emily, George & Mandy, Amy, Phil, and friends)