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Sunday, January 7, 2007

Talledega Nights: The Legend Of Ricky Bobby (2006) ***

Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby (2006) Poster 2

rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence).
1 hr. 50 min.
written by: Adam McKay
produced by: Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
directed by: Adam McKay

Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay have hit upon a formula that works for them, and they're sticking with it. The pair's previous big-screen collaboration, 2004's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy", goosed TV newsrooms while simultaneously skewering the Dumb American Male over a fire pit. Its humor was silly, largely improvisational and devoted to a spirit of anarchy. That movie's basic plotline -- self-satisfied macho idiot wins it all, then loses it all -- is grafted on to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. This time around, the jabs are aimed at NASCAR culture instead of TV news. But unlike Anchorman, Talladega Nights feels more like an actual movie and less like a series of flimsily connected sketches.

Ricky Bobby (
Will Ferrell), destined for the literal fast track from the moment he is blasted out of his mother's womb in the backseat of a speeding Chevelle. "If you ain't first, you're last," his pot-dealing, derelict father Reece (Gary Cole) tells young Ricky, instilling in the boy a warped lifelong obsession with winning. Ricky rises quickly to NASCAR stardom, acquiring all the trappings of southern-fried success, including a lakeside mansion, blonde trophy wife (Leslie Bibb) and two foul-mouthed boys named, of course, Walker and Texas Ranger (Houston Tumlin and Grayson Russell).

Ricky's need for speed is rivaled only by his oversized ego, and so he flips out when a Formula One champion racer, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), arrives on the scene. Girard is everything that Ricky and his best friend and fellow racer, Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly), fear and loathe....he's gay and he's a French intellectual who reads Camus and sips macchiato, sometimes in the middle of racing.

Bobby buckles under the stress of this newfound competition. After a bone-crushing crash, he suffers a nervous breakdown and -- this being a Ferrell movie -- runs around a racetrack, stripped down to his tighty-not-so-whiteys. So begins his downfall. He suffers delusions that he is paralyzed and eventually lands work delivering pizzas on a bicycle while his gold-digger wife, Carly, shacks up with Cal. Will our hero bounce back and redeem himself? Um, duh!

Will Ferrell , John C. Reilly and Michael Clarke Duncan in Columbia Pictures' Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

This is unmistakably a Will Ferrell vehicle, but the actor is magnanimous enough to allow plenty of shining moments for a first-rate supporting cast. Michael Clarke Duncan, what can I say? The Oscar-nominated hulk of a man is one of my favorites as one of Bobby's crew. Just seeing him read Judy Blume's classic "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" and singing Donna Summer in his efforts to comfort a hospital bed-ridden Bobby was enough to bring my rating to three stars. Another crew member, who I know I can always get a good laugh from is David Koechner, a "Ron Burgundy" alum and so good in last year's "Thank You for Smoking". Oscar-nominated for "Junebug", Amy Adams brought the same sweet and bright-eyed character with a dose of crazy. The always nutso Molly Shannon was funny yet you wish there was more for her to do. In an environment that obviously relied on improv, Reilly, Cohen and Bibb are uniformly terrific; Cohen is a particular standout, sporting the most tortured French accent since Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau. This made up for his sad and distasteful Borat character that everyone loves but me.

As they did in Anchorman, co-writers Ferrell and McKay employ a kitchen sink aesthetic, hurling gobs of running gags against the wall in hopes that enough shtick sticks. To their credit, much of it is hilarious. I gotta say though, a lil of the potty-mouthed sassiness of Bobby's boys was enough for me. Sure, it was funny initially, but I got distracted, thinking, "What kinda parent lets their child act out such a role?" Even the dinner scene was a bit too much. It was funny at first but how many times do we have to sit through Bobby praying his "baby Christmas Jesus," (his preferred incarnation of Christ) prayers?

Here is a movie (one of the few) motion pictures in recent memory in which shameless product placement actually works, reflecting NASCAR's obsession with corporate sponsorship. You have to admire any movie that actually interrupts its climax for an Applebee's commercial. Very appropriate. The movie isn't for everyone due to the lengths it will go to get a laugh but I like as much as "Ron Burgundy", just a little less. Just part you're brain and prepare to have many laughs.

This "unrated" DVD boasts 13 minutes of additional footage, but parts of this rejiggered version actually dilute some of the humor. A smattering of scenes from the theatrical version, including one in which a young Ricky Bobby steals his mother's car while she's buying milk, are now inexplicably absent. And still other vignettes, while funny, are extended to the point that they lose their punch. "Unrated" DVD's seem to be the thing now. You can count on most comedy or horror films getting an "UNRATED" slapped on their packaging in an effort to lure buyers. Whatever. If the movie was good, people will buy it. Sometime even if it isn't.

Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen in Columbia Pictures' Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Special Features:

One thing you can bank on with DVDs of largely ad-libbed movies; there will be plenty of supplemental material that ended up on the cutting room floor. That's surely the case with this film. So, fans are rewarded with a rich bounty of bonuses.

The only real disappointment, in fact, is a commentary by McKay and actor Ian Roberts, who appears in the film as Kyle. McKay spoofs the arrogance and pretentiousness that drips from so many commentaries, but the joke grows tiresome and -- stretched across the length of the entire feature -- just unbearable. Maybe that's the point. If so, mission accomplished.

Thankfully, the other extras more than make up for the commentary. Nine deleted and extended scenes (which have a combined running time of 25 minutes, 20 seconds) are generally funny; some of the material probably deserved to make the final cut. We get more scenes with Amy Adams as Ricky's personal assistant, Susan. If included in the theatrical version, such footage would have helped ease the character into the third act, where she suddenly takes on a quasi-critical role. The deleted scenes also showcase the considerable comedic skills of Leslie Bibb and John C. Reilly.

Similarly, a five-minute, 22-second line-o-rama is essential, terrific stuff -- montage of adlibs that didn't make the final cut.

Other supplemental material nixed from the theatrical version includes: Ricky and Cal's commercials (1:35), Ricky and Cal's public service announcements (2:31) and a five-minute, 40-second grouping of some outtakes that I coulda done without with Walker and Texas Ranger.

Fake interviews with the characters of Talladega Nights, however, strain the gag. This features Ricky and Cal (5:30), Jean Girard and his husband Gregory (3:39) and Cal and Carly (4:12). Intermittently entertaining.

Will Ferrell Returns to Talladega is a five-minute, 20-second clip of the actor making an appearance at the celebrated raceway sometime after the completion of the film. Ferrell is quick-witted, funny and likeable in his interactions with racecar drivers and enthusiasts.

Also included is a theatrical trailer, a two-minute, 27-second gag reel and bonus race footage that clocks in at one minute, 18 seconds.

The impulse of DVD producers to dress up already released films with "unrated" versions is always a dicey affair. Typically, there are solid reasons that certain footage was left on the cutting-room floor. "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby", however, is an interesting case. While the 13 minutes added to the film are hit-or-miss, a fair amount of what we find in the DVD's "deleted and extended scenes" is good stuff. Regardless, Will Ferrell fans would be well-advised to race out and pick up this extras-laden DVD of a movie that might just be his funniest to date (although I do have a soft spot for "Ron Burgundy"). One of the resons I waited for DVD for this one was cuz I knew that it'd be loaded with "bells and whistles" that I'd look forward to. That and my wife delivered our baby the weekend of the film's release!

The Skinny:

  • Producers pitched the movie idea to studios as: "Six words: Will Ferrell as a Nascar driver."
  • The race cars were housed in a warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, that formerly held the Interstate Brands Corporation plant, former owner of Wonder Bread. Bimbo Bakeries purchased Wonder Bread shortly after filming was completed. Ricky Bobby's All-American sponsor is now a Mexican-owned company and bakes all of its bread in Canada (as it has for many years). As the cars were wrecked, pieces were given to a local shopping center to display.
  • When they were at an actual racetrack to get audio clips, director Adam McKay apparently didn't need to prompt the audience for one scene. When Sacha Baron Cohen's character Jean Girard was introduced as a driver from France driving the Perrier car, the entire crowd started booing on their own.
  • Will Ferrell offered a role to Steve Carell, but Carell couldn't accept due to scheduling conflicts.
  • Reese Bobby drinks Laughing Clown Malt Liquor throughout the movie, which was the first sponsor Ricky's team had.
  • A cardboard cutout of Dale Earnhardt wearing Mardi Gras beads can be seen briefly in the infield during the final race at Talladega, just before the "time to let the cougar loose" sequence.
  • Reese Bobby drives a black and gold #13 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu, an apparent homage to Smokey Yunick, who campaigned similar Chevelles with driver Curtis Turner in NASCAR in the mid 60's.
  • There is a post-credits scene featuring Walker and Texas Ranger reading a William Faulkner novel with Lucy Bobby.
  • Ricky Bobby's driver's license is shown to have been issued on July 16, which is Will Ferrell's birthday. The license also states that Ricky was born on July 16, 1971.
  • The English equivalent to "Jean Girard" is "John Jerry," a name construction which echoes "Ricky Bobby" in that it consists of two first names.
  • Jean Girard is said to have dominated the Formula One circuit, followed by a clip of the sport. The black F1 car which is supposed to be Jean is Gianmaria Bruni's Minardi Cosworth PS04B (now Scuderia Toro Rosso) and a backmarker, while the blue car following closely is the Mild Seven Renault F1 R24 of Jarno Trulli coming around to lap him at the 2004 Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring. Ironically, Minardi has never had a podium finish in its history.
  • In the mini-documentrary about Jean Girard, you can hear Gregory, Jean's husband, refer to the German Shepherds he is training as "Brigatta", "Marta", and "Rolfe the Nazi boyfriend". These are names of characters from The Sound of Music.
  • Cal, Ricky and Girard were all actually introduced during driver introductions at the 2005 UAW Ford 500 at Talladega. Ricky and Cal were cheered, but when Girard was introduced as a driver from France driving the Perrier car, the entire crowd started booing without any prompting.
  • Ferrell's "Anchorman" co-stars Ben Stiller and Steve Carell were originally cast in the film, but they couldn't accept because of scheduling conflicts.

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