Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Talladega Nights

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Adam McKay, 2006) [4]
I watched this film back to back with Borat and a little surprisingly, found that both deal with a certain class of American society. To an extent. This is a film about NASCAR and a film not really about NASCAR. Car racing is something I have absolutely no interest in, but Will Farrell and McKay make it clear that you don't have to know who Tony Stewart is to laugh at the film. The film isn't interested in any real examination of NASCAR or the strange (to me anyway) sociological implications of it. It deals heavily with a certain class of people, Southern mostly, that are stereotyped, true or not, as overtly macho, homophobic, jingoistic, naive, and less than intelligent. Borat does this by re-enforcing those ideas, while in Talladega Nights they're played off as lovable and harmless. It creates an interesting paradigm of American society.

As for the film, with any Will Ferrel vehicle, it's completely hit and miss. The film can be really on, but it also has its moments when it just drags on with no real purpose. The story here is a bit more concrete than Anchorman, but reigning in on the story keeps out the out-of-left-field jokes and tangents that gave that previous film more laughs. When the film does fire, such as Sacha Baron Cohen's character, a gay Formula One driver that reads The Stranger while out on the track, and the shameless product placement and commercialization that define NASCAR, it borders on some sharp satire, but Farrell and McKay never have the onions to dig in. Baron Cohen's character comes of as completely harmless when I have a feeling someone like that could never set foot in a NASCAR track without something bad happening (I hope I'm wrong, but I worked at the Watkins Glen race one year, and from the people I saw, I don't think I would be). But mostly you judge a comedy by its laughs and this film just doesn't have enough. I've never thought that Ferrell is consistently funny in any of his leading roles, and here is no different, as he's upstaged by John C. Reilly as Ricky Bobby's dimwit pushover best friend. The problem with these two characters is they're so completely naive that they're absolutely harmless and of no importance to me once my viewing of Talladega Nights ended. Sometimes, it's not enough just to be silly.

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