Talladega Nights : The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
"I wanna go fast," Ricky Bobby insists petulantly as a child, and Will Ferrell’s "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" takes off in equal strides comedy and verve. As both a title and a setup, Ferrell taking on NASCAR is a moviegoer’s delight; unfortunately, in large part, it ends there. What promises to be a hysterical romp gets caught between over-reliance of improvisational wit and a botched attempt to dramatize what should have been a high-flying comic vehicle for Farrell... and ultimately, this greased up engine just stalls.
Ferrell plays the title character, who early in life is inspired by his dad (Gary Cole) to put the proverbial petal to the metal. Ricky does so, and ends up on the NASCAR circuit, taking home trophies, a vacant but beautiful wife (Leslie Bibb), two foul-mouthed sons and a host of ill-conceived endorsements like Wonder Bread. In the process of pushing his own career into overdrive, however, he crushes his best friend Cal (John C. Reilly) under his tires. When a crash robs Ricky of his confidence (see: "Days of Thunder"), he slips into neutral, is ultimately run over by Cal, and seeks assistance in an unlikely alliance with arch-enemy Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) - a gay French NASCAR driver whose unnerving effeminate mannerisms make Elton John look subtle.
Strangely, by the middle of the picture it’s no longer possible to decipher precisely what Ferrel and friends are mocking: NASCAR, gay marriage or their own lackluster approach to the material. The movie begins strong with Ferrell in top condition; his sendup of white trash narcissistic fame and forture is hysterical, with religion, politics and common sense all carved up at the dinner table in equal measure. But once Ricky’s fortunes turn, the movie begins to lost traction. I enjoy the half-crazed antics of Ferrell, wherein we’re half-convinced the actor himself has jarred loose a few vital brain synapses. Halfway through ’Talladega," however, his character sheds his self-centered, blithe, ultra-funny approach to life and becomes - gasp - cogent.
Uh, what’s that about?
With Ferrell in not-so-funny mode, the antics of those around him lose their spell and suddenly make us realize that the movie has merely overextended its three jokes, filling in the lack of plot with random SNL-type skits that, while momentarily diverting, fail to correct the central problem of "Talledega Nights": that it just tried too hard to be a fast, fun ride, and instead just keeps us going in lazy circles.