There are some statements that instil an instant dread in me. Remakes would be one. Parents surprise visit another. And a Will Farrell Comedy. If ever there was an oxymoron. A cursory glace at Farrell's career reveals steady work, centred around comedy. Like most of his peers made his name on Saturday Night Live before making the move to the big screen with a selection of bit part characters and lightweight lead roles; but, unlike his peers, has consistently fails to have any significant critical or commercial success. Oh there have been a few ups on the way, I enjoyed the Christmas vehicle Elf (2003) and some point to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) as a particular high point, but the majority is all very plain. So, you can see my trepidation when I come to look at Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Farrell's latest 'comedy' both written and produced by his good self. Meaning that Farrell himself takes centre stage, so if he is not your thing, it might be a good idea to leave this one well alone. Rumour has it that the pitch for this film was “Will Farrell in a NASCAR movie”, and on the back of that a bloated $134 million budget was allocated; when you see the end result I can only call that obscene.
Ricky Bobby is born in the back of a speeding car. He is abandoned by his father who then inexplicably turns up to Bobby's ten year old school career day, where upon he gives Bobby the advice he henceforth lives his life by, “If you're not first, you're last.” Fast forward sixteen years, Bobby and, best friend from school, Cal Naughton, Jr (John C. Reilly) are pit crew of the worst NASCAR racing team there is. This fateful day, their driver, knowing he is last decides to leave the race for a cheeseburger giving Bobby the chance to jump in the drivers seat for the first time and “go fast”. Incredibly he makes third in the race and then becomes a 'world' phenomenon as he continues to win. A rich lavish lifestyle, trophy wife and obnoxious kids are soon forth coming and it looks like he can do no wrong. Until Formula One racing champion and gay French man Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) threatens to over throw his reign. Following a horrific car crash, Bobby has mental breakdown and is unable to race, in the process looses his job, wife and possessions. Taking his two boys, Walker and Texas Ranger, Bobby returns home to his mother and with her help and some ill advised help from his estranged father learns humility and regains the will to race. His triumphant return to NASCAR is nearly cut short after another horrific pile up that involves every car in the circuit leaving but one choice; to run to the finish line. In the end there can be only one winner, but more importantly can anyone make it through this film to see who it is?
Ok, let's not beat around the bush here, I found this film a travesty. There a number of serious problems with the film the most prominent of which is; the film is not funny. At all. And in my book, a comedy that is not funny is not a good film. Unfortunately the problems as to why, extent to more than poor scripting, unfunny 'jokes' or timing. Fundamentally it is Farrell's characterisation of Bobby that is the film's downfall. The first few minutes of screen time are used to introduce us to the character and they are not enough. From boy to man in one cut, the from pit crew to driver in another, how can we empathise with him? But, within the montage of his winning streak he becomes a thoroughly unlikeable character, obnoxious, mean, brash, boastful and just plain nasty. His family too are awful, abusive kids (egged on by their father) obscene behaviour by their mother, to put it simply there is nothing to like about Ricky Bobby. Here is root of the problem, because the film fails to recover from it. The idea is sound and a staple of the Disney diet; awful character learns humility and wins back all he lost; but Bobby is so unlikeable that we cannot forgive him, his journey never makes that circle. Even a futile attempt to make John C. Reilly character of Cal Naughton, Jr the bad guy (by having him take Bobby's crown) fails since he has already become likeable and constantly remains so. Even after his continuing harassment of Bobby because he wants to remain friends.
Sacha Baron Cohen character of Jean Girard is another attempt to place a bad guy into the film, but again they try too hard, a gay married French man, whose skill is matched only by his arrogance (and another character loved to be hated by Cohen) is borderline racist in its portrayal. But worse than this Girard and Bobby's scenes have no confrontation; never is there any threat or menace. So, with no likeable characters, we don't care about their fate.
Next up, the film is set to the back drop of NASCAR a fiercely competitive sport and one that commands huge respect and loyalty from its millions of fans in the racing community. Luckily the film never trashes on its subject, but I was amazed at how little excitement the races themselves generated. I guess it stems from the lack of empathy to the drivers, we don't care who wins; we cannot get into the race. It comes to something when the racing from Disney's Cars (2006) or even Herbie Fully Loaded (2005) is more exciting.
Now I know I'm painting a bleak picture, I am not into motor sports, I'm not a huge fan of Farrell; but a film is a film and should be able to stand on its own merits; Talladega Nights is unable to do so. For a film about racing, it has one heck of a slow pace, running at two hours (with the extended scenes in this unrated version) it became just plain boring. This unrated extended edition adds more than the regulation one swear word of the PG-13 certificate, but little else, though I fail to see what will entice more buyers. I didn't hate it, I can't bring myself to even be bothered about it, it is a waste of effort and time.
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