Such is life in NASCAR — but it's also true of the auto racing comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." Like the sport it spoofs, the movie has its thrilling moments but mostly feels repetitive — it's constantly moving but never really goes anywhere.
It's also just too much like "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" — or at least it tries to be, but comes up short.
Same star (Will Ferrell), same director (Adam McKay), same writers (Ferrell and McKay again). Same basic character (a fervently clueless doofus who's unflappably confident in his abilities), same plot (he's at the top of his game but experiences a downfall at the hands of a new rival), same outcome (he returns to the top of his game having gained perhaps a smidgen of humility, if that).
"Anchorman" was dead-on, though, and it was novel. Ferrell's shtick can be hilarious — he's fearless as always, unpredictable, and he just seems so intensely committed to making you believe that Ricky Bobby totally believes in himself, you can practically feel him vibrating with energy through the screen.
The movie itself, though, isn't nearly so focused.
It begins with Ricky realizing at a young age that he wants to go fast like his car-racing daddy, then quickly finds him as an adult (though not a grown-up) at the top of the NASCAR heap. Jane Lynch plays his tough-love mama, with Gary Cole as the absent, alcoholic father whose love and approval Ricky still seeks. (Yes, all the clichés are in order. There are even references to the Waffle House and Applebee's, which should be amusingly familiar to Southerners; everyone else will just feel smugly superior.)
Ricky owes much of his success to his teammate and best friend since childhood, Cal Naughton (John C. Reilly, revisiting his police officer mustache from "Magnolia"), who always agrees to finish the race in second place. There's something sweetly delicate and sad about the way Cal simultaneously worships and resents Ricky. That's no surprise, though, since Reilly brings complexity to every supporting role he's in, even in a manic comedy like this.
Ricky has it all — the generically hot, blond wife (Leslie Bibb), the ostentatiously huge house (with oversized pickup trucks parked outside), even a couple of kids (with awesomely inspired first names).
But all that becomes jeopardized when a driver from the Formula One circuit bursts onto the NASCAR scene. Sacha Baron Cohen plays the role of the flamboyantly French Jean Girard the same way he inhabits his own characters he's created, including the crass British rapper Ali G and Borat, the overzealous TV reporter from Kazakhstan: by immersing himself completely in it and making you believe you're watching a fully realized, screwed-up human being.
After the premise is established, though, "Talladega Nights" ... well, it would be too easy to say it runs out of gas. But that's what happens. Ferrell's Ricky Bobby act, which was so exciting off the top, grows old because there is simply no depth or nuance to this character. Then once his wife coldly leaves him, a new love interest (the adorable Amy Adams from "Junebug") comes out of nowhere and feels unfounded.
Worst of all, "Talladega Nights" just stops being funny, and resembles one of those "Saturday Night Live" sketches that's been agonizingly stretched out from a few minutes to a feature-length film — like "A Night at the Roxbury," for example.
By Christy Lemire