talladega nights: the ballad of ricky bobby (2006)
There's many things that went wrong with this film, and hey, even a few things that went right. I'll go ahead and point out a few of the "right" stuff before I get to the multitude of wrong. Basically, if there was one thing this movie definitely had down, it was small gags. A few of the one-liners and little visual jokes really hit the mark and ended up being just plain funny. In Talladega Nights just about every effective joke requires absolutely no set-up, and could easily be just as funny in a trailer or clip setting. These jokes ultimately get really tiresome and are completely unfulfilling on the part of the audience. The small jokes had their moments, the big problem was that there weren't any "big" jokes to speak of. There was no punting-Baxter-off-a-bridge style stuff that would get a big laugh out loud reaction from the audience and really get the theater going. The mood in my almost-empty theater was decidedly down, noone seemed to be laughing, and I sure as hell wasn't. As a matter of fact, it's going to be tough to even write a review on this thing. It's a film where the jokes make it or break it, it's a comedy. The fact of the matter is that, try as they might, Ferrell and the rest of the cast just couldn't get me laughing, plain and simple. This isn't the deal with last summer's hunk of garbage Wedding Crashers, where the film had definite and notable flaws. Talladega Nights is just lackluster. I'd say the cast is most likely to blame for alot of it. The last time Ferrell teamed up with director Adam McKay, it was a star-studded affair with some of the biggest names in comedy playing either leads or cameos. Anchorman had Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Fred Willard and Christina Applegate in leads, while in cameos we got Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins, Luke Wilson, Jack Black and Chris Parnell. All of these guys have proven hilarity on their resume and the random antics that erupted throughout the film were great. This one gives us people like John C. Reilly and Michael Clark Duncan. Good actors, but not funny .... not in the least. But with this thing, the actual comedians did even worse David Koechner (Champ Kind from Anchorman) makes an appearance and does nothing. The worst job in the whole film, however, come from Ali G playing the French villain. His performance is so terrible that you wonder if he's awake or sleepwalking through the entire film. Not to mention his character's joke is that he has a funny accent, a joke which they drive into the ground in every scene he's in. It wasn't funny in the first 5 minutes, after an hour and a half, it's just plain annoying. Maybe if they had come up with some interesting material for the characters to say, it might've helped. But I think that good comic actors could have probably dragged at least a few funny lines from this junk heap of a script. Ad-libbing can go a long way in a film like this, and a little more of it in some spots would have been a pretty good decision.
Of course, in other spots, a little less would have been great as well. One of the major problems is that a film like this would be a blast to make, but it's not quite as fun to watch. When making it, the actors come in with a general idea of a scene and then they give them carte blanche to make up lines for hours, take after take, each one more outrageous than the last. Finally, they take the most outrageous and stick it in the film. Okay, but they've cut the audience out of that middle-ground of comedic escalation, simply dropping us from point A to point C without any idea of how we got there, it doesn't turn out well. Once we see the gag reels and see how the joke evolved, we can find more humor in it, but during the film it just feels like it came out of nowhere. Bah, this movie just really wasn't up my alley if you can't already tell. So we've addressed the problems with the crappy and altogether lacking actors, the absence of any crazy laugh-out-loud humor, and the messy ad-lib practices that could really use some reining in. Ah, but what we haven't covered yet is the one big aspect that, in my opinion, really killed the movie. Like put the nail in the coffin kinda thing. It tried to tell us a story. Most great comedic films understand that when making a comedy, the film must make people laugh. It has no other obligations. Like a horror movie is only for scaring, a comedic film is only for laughing. Do I care who wins a car race? HELL NO. The film commits the ultimate comedy sin by assuming that I'm somehow involved with the characters. NO FREAKIN WAY. I do not care if Ferrell re-connects with his father, I don't care who wins a race, I don't care about his friendship with John C. Rielly unless it's .... say it with me now ... FUNNY. If these events somehow added to the comedy, it would be terrific, but they don't. They detract from the film in a big way. All the comedy greats of the past from Harold Lloyd to the Marx Brothers understood that the story was secondary to the laughs (The Marx Brother in particular followed this rule incredibly). Even Chaplin, whose films went beyond comedy to really hit some emotional depths and act as social commentaries on everything from war to the industrial revolution, put the laughs first. That's the way to do it. Recent comedy slop like Anger Management, Bruce Almighty, and a whole slew of others ended up being garbage because they were funny for a while, and then tried to throw a "serious" ending in our faces that taught a life-lesson or some other such nonsense. Talladega Nights doesn't go that far, it keeps its sense of humor until the end, but the fact that they even thought I wanted to know the outcome of the race shows that they were thinking in the wrong direction. In comedy, the characters are everything, not the story. Give me some Hilarious characters like Brick Tamland, Brian Fantana, Champ Kind and Ron Burgundy and I'll be happy. Ricky Bobby just isn't a funny character, neither Reilly's character Cal Naughton. The two just don't work well together. (Bad news since they're starring together again in the film Step-Brothers ... but that's about 2 years away.) I'm sure when filming this the two were sure that "Shake-and-Bake!!!" would be the new retarded frat-boy catchphrase for the rest of the year. God, I hope not. I enjoyed quoting Anchorman to no end, but I don't see the same coming from this film.
So, I'll say it again, I may even say it a third time, don't see this movie. It's not that it's complete junk, it's just not that funny. It's pretty much a waste of time to put it bluntly. Ferrell can do better, and has in the past, there's no reason why we can't see great films from this guy and his comedy partners for years to come. In the pipeline he's got Stranger than Fiction in a couple of months, it's got an interesting premise, I'll say that. Old School 2 should be out within a year or so, and who knows what else. In the past few years this guy's been popping up in 3 or 4 movies a year. McKay still has a future in comedy, this being only his second film and all. Next up we'll see if he can pull off a movie of the Land of the Lost TV show. yeah.... I'll probably see it, how could I resist? But back to Talladega Nights, here comes that third time I mentioned, don't see the movie.