- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Will Ferrell can play dense better than just about anyone, but he must know watching his clueless mug for 90 minutes can be a trial.

For the NASCAR comedy “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” Mr. Ferrell hired a comic pit crew of unusual depth to keep the laughs rolling.

Best of the best is Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays inscrutable rapper Ali G on HBO’s “Da Ali G Show.” Mr. Cohen’s Jean Girard, the French racer and rival to Ricky Bobby, transforms “Talladega Nights” from a middling star vehicle into a consistently amusing romp.

We’d say, Get this man his own movie, stat, but Mr. Cohen’s upcoming film based on his Borat character from “Da Ali G Show” already boasts the funniest trailer around.

“Nights” plays fast and loose as both a NASCAR spoof and a companion piece to Mr. Ferrell’s uneven 2004 vehicle “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”

But it’s when Mr. Ferrell locks horns with Mr. Cohen that “Talladega Nights” rises close to the level of Mr. Ferrell’s funniest work 2003’s “Elf.”

Mr. Ferrell is Ricky Bobby, a man built for speed and not much else. Abandoned by his father (Gary Cole) at an early age, he stumbles into the racing world and soon finds himself atop the NASCAR circuit.

He marries a gorgeous blonde (Leslie Bibb), has two precocious kids named Texas and Walker Ranger and hangs with his oldest friend and racing partner Cal (John C. Reilly).

Ricky has it all, and it’s clearly gone to his head. He won’t ever let Cal come in first, and he can’t be bothered teaching his children anything resembling discipline.

His complacency ends when French racing rival Jean Girard drives into town.

Jean quickly steals Ricky’s sponsor and his sense of invincibility. Ricky later crashes trying to catch up to Jean’s race car, and while Ricky recovers physically his need for speed appears lost in the wreckage.

—”Talladega Nights” lets Mr. Ferrell dig deeper into his farcical brand of humor, but ultimately his supporting troupe brightens the spotty material. Mr. Cole emerged years ago as a bland leading man, but his comic turns since then reveal a deeply layered performer. And watching Mr. Reilly revel in blue collar gags is a hoot, especially given his oh-so serious work in recent years (“The Hours,” “Gangs of New York”).

rell is not without his winning moments. An early sequence where Ricky Bobby says grace to the baby Jesus — he prefers the swaddled saviorSavior rather than the grown man — simply wouldn’t work with anyone else.

—It’s the grace scene that typifies “Nights’” comic vantage point. Director Adam McKay is in no hurry to move his redemptive story along, letting moments like this linger long enough for fresh laughs to bubble up. It’s a bold choice, but Mr. McKay has the cast and the patience

to make it click more often than not.

“Talladega Nights” hits the usual marks as both parody and homage to NASCAR. Ricky Bobby lands some truly bizarre endorsements, some of which run over the end credits, and he signs autographs on magazines, mug shots and even a baby’s head.

“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” doesn’t skimp on some nifty driving sequences, but audiences are here more for Mr. Ferrell than for any car crash. What they’ll drive home remembering is the hilarious Mr. Cohen and how Mr. Ferrell can make us laugh just by knitting his brows and letting those vacant orbs stare our way.

But next time, can the lumpy Mr. Ferrell promise to keep his clothes on for a change? (Ricky Bobby repeatedly drops trow when he thinks his racing uniform is ablaze.)

Please?

**

TITLE: “Taladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”

RATING: PG-13 (Crude and sexual humor, adult language, drug references and brief comic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Adam McKay. Written by Mr. McKay and Will Ferrell.

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.sonypictures.

com/movies/talladeganights/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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