Friday, 13 October 2006

Talladega Nights: the ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Will Ferrell does Murderball!

Don’t get me wrong. Cars was a good animation, but certainly not the best that Pixar could come up with. For its almost 2-hour duration, I kept wondering where the Pixar originality of storytelling had went, considering that the plot was remarkably similar to Michael J Fox’s Doc Hollywood. Through the entire “arrogant hotshot learns a jolt of humility to triumph in the end” story, one wondered if the writers at Pixar produced the script blindfolded, and with one arm tied behind their backs.

Everything became clear to me when I watched Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights, however. Sure, it’s about the same story as Cars, with a hotshot rider learning some humility to triumph in the end, but here, you can really feel the creativity and imagination bursting from the other end of the screen. Real Nascar culture, as Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) puts it, is about “I wanna go faster!” And you realise all this were missing in Cars. As the top circuit driver, Ricky is a self-centred mass of macho posturing, redneck pigheadedness, and loveably silly.

In other words, the gags in this movie come from Will Ferrell’s cheeky celebration and parody of red state values and air-headed denizens. Aside from this interesting premise, the comedy also benefits from its twist: Ricky Bobby’s decline (and redemption) is set off by the arrival of Jean Girrard (Sasha Baron Cohen, the comedian who recently posed as Kazakh reporter eager to invite George Bush to his film premiere!), a European racing champion to the American circuit. The snooty driver is the complete opposite of the redneck hotshot; for every ridiculous red state stereotype set up with the portrayal of Ricky Bobby, his friends and family, there is a corresponding ridiculous ultraliberal stereotype set up with Jean Girrard. It’s all good clean fun, since the only thing more funny than a movie that makes fun of rednecks is a movie that makes fun of both rednecks and liberals.

Despite its mouthful of a title, Talladega Nights is a comedy that is watchable, brings on the laughs easily, and doesn’t insult the viewers’ intelligence. The structure of the movie may be fairly predictable, but how Will Ferrell moves the script to its key destinations and waypoints is almost unpredictable and wacky that you have to smile at the inspired lunacy of it all. Clearly with the presence of Will Ferrell, Hollywood’s long stretch of poor comedies certainly seem to be at an end.

First published at incinemas on 12 October 2006

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