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'Talladega Nights' Might Make You Laugh


It's not unusual for Hollywood to copy itself. This summer, there are two movies in theaters that have basically the same plot: Cars and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. The latter is from the same pit crew that brought us Anchorman.

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says it does for NASCAR what the earlier movie did for journalism.

KENNETH TURAN reporting:

Talladega Nights is a bit of a mess, but it's a genial mess, and one that might make you laugh. You may feel a little sheepish the next morning, but it's hard to resist smiling at the antics of a NASCAR racing champion with two first names.

(Soundbite of movie Talladega Nights)

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (As Ricky Bobby) Hey, I'm Ricky Bobby.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Ricky Bobby.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky Bobby, in Talladega Nights movie) Yeah!

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Ricky Bobby.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky Bobby) Whoo!

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (As character) Ricky Bobby is not a thinker.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky Bobby) Uh oh!

Unidentified Woman: (As character) Ricky Bobby is a driver.

TURAN: Talladega Nights is like the Saturday Night Live shows where star Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay met. It's a series of sketches and set pieces. Some of them work, while others misfire. Talladega Nights is also like many of the modern crop of guy comedies, hampered by periodic lapses into crude sexual humor. Since the basic tone here is surprisingly sweet, these forays feel grafted onto a film that would have been better off without them.

On the other hand, the idea of joining a satire of NASCAR culture with a spoof on self-help psychobabble of the you-have-to-make-friends-with-the-fear variety is effective.

(Soundbite of movie Talladega Nights)

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Ricky, the doctor told us that we should let you work it out in your own sweet time, but Ricky, you can walk.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky Bobby) What'd you just say?

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) He's telling you the truth, man. It's all in your head.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky Bobby) You sick - I mean you walk in that door on your two legs, all fat and cocky, and looking at me in my chair, and you tell me it's all in my head? I hope that both of you have sons and they have their legs taken away. I mean I pray you know that pain and that hurt!

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Don't you put that evil on me, Ricky Bobby! Don't you put that on us! You are not paralyzed!

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky Bobby) I am so paralyzed!

TURAN: Ferrell is not only the film's star, but also a generous collaborator. He's willing to share the screen in mano-a-mano comedy stand-offs with gifted co-stars who are just as funny as he is. Wackiest of these is British comic Sacha Baron Cohen, best known as HBO's rogue interviewer Ali G.

He plays a gay Formula One driver who is French to the point of enjoying jazz, wearing black leather, being sponsored by Perrier, and reading Camus' The Stranger - while he drives.

(Soundbite of movie Talladega Nights)

Mr. SACHA BARON COHEN (Actor): (As Jean Girard) Listen, you better be careful. Because tomorrow you're going to get beaten. Beaten real bad, cowboy.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky Bobby) Really?

Mr. COHEN: (As Jean Girard) Yes!

(Soundbite of overlapping shouting)

Mr. COHEN: (As Jean Girard) I give you one option, Monsieur Bobby. As a sign of humility, if you kiss me on the lips now, I will return to Paris and you will never see me again in NASCAR.

TURAN: When the last race has been run, however, Talladega Nights belongs to Will Ferrell. He's created a voice and a physical look for Ricky Bobby, right down to the soul patch under his lower lip.

His ability to be amusing, even when he doesn't appear to be doing anything, is remarkable. For a film that feels like it has nearly as many lapses as the Talladega 500 has laps, it's a gift that's almost worth paying for.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan is film critic for the Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.

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