Thursday, September 21, 2006

20th Sep 06 - Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

The powerhouse team behind the deliciously silly Anchorman dish out their next offering, the unnecessarily wordy “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”. While Anchorman centred around the world of 70’s newsreaders, Talladega goes for NASCAR racers, with Will Ferrell playing Ricky Bobby, a man who just wants to go fast.

Plot wise, this is about as new as a very ancient thing. Just say ‘film about racing drivers’ and you immediately know there’ll be a climb to greatness, a fall, and then a climb back up to the winning finale. It’s the same paint-by-numbers tactic employed by most sport-related films, and the main reason why I’m not a big fan of the genre (the other being I find sport as… is this joke getting old? No - I find it as dull as Pirates of the Caribbean 2.)

But this is Ferrell with Adam McKay, whose improv methods (often influenced by McKay from behind the camera) churned out some killer lines in Anchorman. “The human torch was denied a bank loan” or “by the beard of Zeus” being a couple of classics. Couple this with Ferrell’s talent for comic timing and melodrama and you’re surely on to a winner. Aren’t you…?

Well, in a way yes. There’s a strong supporting cast and some fabulously funny scenes. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Ferrell’s nemesis, with the best French accent you’ll ever hear. John C. Reilly (who’s main trick is to appear in supporting roles and nearly steal the show. Examples: Magnolia, or if you haven’t been exposed to films that are good, Chicago) plays the doting yet thick best friend, plus there’s the big dude from The Green Mile. Stand out scenes include Ricky Bobby’s fire fear and his proof of paralysis (what gets one knife out of your leg? How about another…)

But, and you just knew there’d be a but, this isn’t the comedy masterpiece it could have been. For me, Anchorman truly shines when the cast are allowed to play about, throwing out outlandish comments (“I ate a candle”) and bouncing off each other’s ludicrousness. There are flashes of it in Talladega – especially the literal face-to-face confrontations between Ferrell and his French enemy – and there’s evidence of it in the outtakes at the end, which were the funniest moments by far. But the problem with a subject like NASCAR racing is there’s not a whole lot an actor can do when they’re strapped into a car with a big helmet on. Just as things are getting funny, we’re shown a montage of cars racing. Let’s get this straight – cars aren’t funny. Even though McKay does some neat camera work, I have no interest in the cars, or the racing. In fact, don’t show any racing at all. I just want to see the characters interacting and being stupid. But it felt like every time they were just warming up, the scenes got cut. If I could just get hold of the raw material, I’d bet there are some belting jokes and performances. Why aren’t they all in this film? They’ve been sacrificed for bloody racing shots. It’s a travesty. Look, I’m getting hysterical now.

Right. This was an enjoyable film. I did laugh. But at no point did my face hurt, or were there tears in my eyes, and this means it wasn’t the comedy that it should have been. It was OK. From McKay and Ferrell it should have been brilliant. So no extra points, you hear? That’ll teach you for venturing into bloody sport movie territory. CF0.

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