TALLADEGA NIGHTS

PG-13

-By Lewis Beale


For movie details, please click here.

Filled with Southern-fried stereotypes, plenty of faux NASCAR race sequences and barely competent filmmaking, Talladaga Nights sure knows its audience: brain-dead frat boys and assorted other morons who think that naming a lead character Ricky Bobby is actually funny. It's not.

Starring the less-than-gifted Will Ferrell as Mr. Bobby, a superstar NASCAR driver who undergoes a series of misfortunes before emerging triumphant at fadeout, Talladega Nights is another in a long line of allegedly humorous films which seem to be composed of equal parts improvisation and low-end sitcom humor. It's not that ethnic and cultural stereotyping can't be funny-Lord knows the laugh industry would be nothing without them-it's just that movies like this one keep punching the same buttons over and over again. So if you think that a family meal composed of takeout from KFC and Domino's is a hoot, or find a French racecar team sponsored by Perrier knee-slappingly hilarious, then Talladega Nights is for you.

Recounting the "plot" (such as it is) of this film is probably unnecessary, but here goes: Ricky Bobby shoots to stardom on the NASCAR circuit when, as a pit-crew member, he takes over midway through a race for a driver who plain gives up. Instant celebrity RB marries a hottie fan (Leslie Bibb) and sires two obnoxious kids. Then along comes Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Ali G), a gay French driver (cue laugh track and roll out those French jokes!) who challenges Ricky's supremacy. Quicker than you can say, "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Ricky loses his stardom and his wife, and falls into the trough of despair. Then he makes a successful comeback.

Along the way, through jokey setups both fair and foul (mostly foul), Talladega Nights seems to be distinguished by two things: product placement up the wazoo (you can partially blame sponsor-friendly NASCAR for this, but not for the full-blown Applebee's commercial that appears towards the end of the picture), and direction that's barely competent at best. Helmer Adam McKay never seems to know when to cut a scene, a failure that seems especially egregious since many sequences appear to be improv exercises allowed to go on way too long. And while we're speaking of things that have passed their shelf life, Sacha Baron Cohen's penchant for weird accents has now officially become more annoying than funny, which does not bode well for his upcoming "Borat" movie.

Years ago, a film like Talladega Nights would have been relegated to the under-bill of a drive-in double feature. Today it opens on several thousand screens at multiplexes across the country. Such is progress in the 21st century.

-Lewis Beale


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