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Talladega Nights’ earns place among Ferrell’s finest

Sean Sweany | Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Jim Carrey and Mike Myers were all comedians before they became acclaimed Hollywood superstars. One of the latest names to add to this list is Will Ferrell, who jumped from “Saturday Night Live” to the big screen with mega-hits like “Old School” and “Anchorman.”

His latest comic vehicle, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” recently hit DVD shelves and is quickly becoming another Ferrell classic. In the usual way of the “SNL” alum, the movie showcases his talents while also poking fun at its subject matter – the world of NASCAR racing – in a subtle yet effective manner.

The movie stars Ferrell as Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR superstar and crowd favorite who wins at all costs. His teammate and friend, Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly, “The Aviator”), always finishes second to Bobby’s first, which earns the duo the nickname “Shake ‘n Bake.”

When French Formula One driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat”) arrives to challenge Ricky Bobby in his NASCAR dominance, Bobby must overcome a new influx of personal problems involving both racing and his personal life to return to the top of the racing world.

“Talladega Nights” was clearly created with the intent of mimicking the style of Ferrell’s previous movies that has brought him such success. The film is full of the non-sequiturs and absurd situations that audiences have come to expect from Ferrell’s movies and most of these do not disappoint.

Ferrell shows his usual skill and wit in delivery, and Reilly – who was originally cast in “Anchorman” as Champ Kind, only to withdraw due to scheduling conflicts with “The Aviator” – gives a good performance in another supporting actor role. Cohen also demonstrates his comedic talent and gives a better performance here than he does in “Borat.”

Other actors such as Michael Clarke Duncan, Amy Adams, Gary Cole, Jane Lynch and Andy Richter are perfectly cast in supporting and cameo roles and provide a good assortment of characters for Ferrell and Reilly to interact with throughout.

If this movie suffers from anything, it is that at times the writing fails the actors, in spite of their good performances. Although Ferrell and Adam McKay wrote both “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman,” this film does not demonstrate the same hilarity that “Anchorman” had at every turn.

The unrated DVD comes loaded with special features, some of which are worthless promotional spots that were no doubt included to cram as much product placement in the movie as possible, given the heavy built-in marketing that NASCAR already uses.

Other features, however, such as a gag reel, extended scenes, interviews and deleted or alternate scenes with Ricky Bobby, Cal and Jean Girard reveal humorous material inexplicably left out of the final cut of the film. These show the comic ability of the actors, especially Ferrell, and make the film funnier on a second viewing.

Indeed, like many other Ferrell movies, “Talladega Nights” becomes better and funnier each successive time it plays. This is something all good comedies have in common and is a testament to not only the acting, but also the writing of a film.

In this respect, Ferrell has produced another success in his ever-increasing litany of films. While not on the elite level of “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights” finishes a close second.