Stupid is a Good Thing

by Ian T. McFarland on August 4, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Talladega Nights, when it all comes down to it, is nothing more than one big, 105 minute long joke.  Really all it is is Will Ferrell sending up the Red-Neck and running around like an crazy person who thinks he’s on fire.  It’s just a good thing that with Ferrell and his Anchorman helmer, Adam McKay behind him, they stretch out the joke without mercy and make it laughable the entire time with surprising ease.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
4 Stars

Will Ferrell is the head honcho comedian in Hollywood today.  Sure, Jim Carrey is as zany as ever, but it’s been years since he’s put out a comedy that wasn’t brought down by a boring script or director.  And Adam Sandler regularly puts out a $100 million dollar picture, but they sort of blow hard.  Ferrell, on the other hand, has captured and even helped to create today’s humor, pushing pompous and outrageous jerks to the foreground, while busting many a gut in teenagers across the country.  Whether they’re watching DVDs of Anchorman or watching reruns of SNL, Ferrell’s leading the industry.

And Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby only helps to cement his position in Hollywood.  It may be dumb, it might not have dilemmas that force you to question everything about your life; but it’s funny.  It’s damn funny.  Ferrell, co-stars Gary Cole and John C. Reilly, and Adam McKay nail the sense of humor found in Anchorman to a disturbing degree.

Ferrell is the film’s namesake, a man who grew up shouting “I wanna go fast!” about as often as he breathed.  But with some words of wisdom from his dead-beat dad (Cole), Bobby gets the determination to drive faster than anyone else, eventually breaching the top ranks of NASCAR.  Once there, he gladly takes his self-appointed title as the best person ever.  He brags and assumes greatness, but at the same time is kind and well-meaning enough to be lovable and able to sympathize with.  He really does believe he’s the best and the brightest of his kind, until the king of the French Racing circuit (Sacha Baron Cohen) comes along and tries to steal his glory.

Ferrell and Cohen exaggerate their characters to colossal degrees, but do so with success.  Ferrell, on one hand, thinks America is the best country in the world, loves Jesus and names his kids Walker and Texas Ranger.  If George W. Bush were a NASCAR racer, he might be Ricky Bobby.  Cohen takes his Euro trash character and exploits every stereotype ever made, not only giving him a French accent that sounds like his tongue has swelled to twice its size, but also making him flamboyantly, outrageously and literally gay.  Some may mistake this for homophobia, but plain simple all it is is taking every preconception we’ve had about the French and saying, “What if all of that was real?”

The clashing characters combine to give Talladega Nights a satirical take on U.S. relations with Europe in this era of a Struggle Against Extremism.  It takes our idea of the French and their idea of us; and if we’re really this stupid, who can blame them for hating us?  And if the French are really that gay, how can we not laugh at them?  It’s a pleasant undertone that emerges, likely by accident, that helps to add intelligence to a movie centers on idiots.  But in the end, it’s the humor that makes Talladega Nights what it is, not antics a la Dr. Strangelove.

Talladega Nights isn’t anything if it isn’t funny, pushing jokes that work every minute and more.  It’s not just laugh-out-loud funny, it’s I-hope-I-don’t- accidentally-spit-on-everyone-else-in-the-theater funny.  It might not be touching like Little Miss Sunshine, but it’s not that kind of movie: it’s a stupid comedy.  And if stupid comedies work can work this well, than it must be good to be stupid.

Previous post:

Next post: