Friday, August 4, 2006
"What does 'diablo' mean?" "It's like Spanish for fighting chicken."
If you cracked so much as a shell of a smile reading that, then run, don't walk, to see "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," where you will get an entire year's worth of equally irresistible nonsense.
The second collaboration between actor Will Ferrell and his "Anchorman" director/co-writer Adam McKay has a lot in common with that previous film: Both are largely ad-libbed, aggressively silly comedies about the rise and fall of a doofus who happens to be a star at what he does. In the previous film, it was TV news; in the new movie, it's NASCAR racing.
The main difference between the two pictures is that "Talladega Nights" feels like a real movie where "Anchorman" felt like a feature-length skit. It's not just that the race-car backdrop is more fertile territory for humor than the tired 1970s period setting of "Anchorman": It is also that Ferrell and the rest of the actors have been given actual characters to play.
Ferrell often seems constrained and ill-at-ease when acting in traditional comedies such as "Bewitched" or" Melinda and Melinda": He needs the loose and anarchic framework "Talladega Nights" provides to do his best work. And the character of Ricky undergoes enough transformations over the course of the film - from smug and selfish superstar to dethroned has-been to humbled comeback hopeful - to allow Ferrell to play a wide spectrum of idiocy. His shtick never grows tiresome, because it's constantly changing.
And although there is nothing in the movie that ever asks to be taken seriously, "Talladega Nights" musters up genuine sweetness, whether it's the bond between Ricky and his inseparable pal Cal (John C. Reilly), who will do anything for Ricky - until he decides to steal his wife, his kids and his home - or Ricky's relationship with his long-absent father (Gary Cole), who returns to help his disgraced son overcome his post-crash fear of driving by locking a cougar in his front seat.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby **
"What does 'diablo' mean?" "It's like Spanish for fighting chicken." If you cracked so much as a shell of a smile reading that, then run, don't walk, to see "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," where you will get an entire year's worth of equally irresistible nonsense.
The movie also gets a considerable boost of energy from Sacha Baron Cohen's performance as the flamboyantly snooty French driver Jean Girard, who never pronounces Ricky Bobby's name the same way twice. "Talladega Nights" has its share of inevitable dead spots, but that's never for lack of trying on the part of the actors, who often seem to be on the verge of cracking each other up on camera. Unlike "Anchorman," though, this time the audience doesn't feel like they've been left out of the joke.