Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reily, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Clarke Duncan, Amy Adams
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, Character Interviews, Bonus Footage

"I hope you have sons… beautiful, handsome boys… articulate, educated, and athletic. And I hope they have their legs taken from them so you can know what this pain is like!"

Will Ferrell can look at the camera and say anything. Anything and I will laugh… a good, hardy laugh that will only be the beginning of an avalanche of chuckles that'll bring down the whole mountain. Whether we're talking about his glorious days on SNL, his late night Kaufman-esque appearances with Conan O'Brien, his hilarious turn in "Anchorman", and, most recently, his quiet, vulnerable performance in "Stranger Than Fiction", I can easily say that I'm a big fan. Sure there've been some missteps… chief among them "Bewitched"… but "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" is not one of them. It's a fresh and funny take on the NASCAR phenomenon that only suffers from having too many characters and running a bit too long.

Top NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) has no competition. The best of the best, he's at his prime and has risen to the heights of celebrity with a gigantic house, a smoking hot wife, and everything his little heart desires. However, all of this is threatened with the sudden arrival of French, racing superstar Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen of "Borat" infamy), a man who wants nothing more from his visit to the US than to defeat Ricky Bobby at every turn.

The real genius of this film is its ability to unite father and son. I can't stand NASCAR… I just don't get it. My dad? True and blue, he loves NASCAR like any good conservative and practically carries a banner that reads, 'if you don't like it… you can get out'. The thing that makes "Talladega Nights" a great comedy is its ability to attract fans and detractors of its satirical target. I'm sure it was a terribly, fine line to walk, but the filmmakers have somehow appealed to both audiences. To be fair, if you haven't liked Will Ferrell before this, you're not going to enjoy this movie at all. It's the same humor, the same style, and the same delivery.

There are some genuinely funny performances from everyone on screen John C. Reily is a simple, well intentioned best-friend-forever who isn't very skilled at thinking for himself. His character becomes a nice foil to Ricky Bobby's ego and Reily, a native to independent dramas, hams it up without growing dull. Michael Clarke Duncan is a teddy bear of a track manager who wants nothing more than to see everyone get along. Cohen is more subtle, appearing with a performance that subtly undermines the values of the NASCAR fanbase while disguising his intentions to do so. On a repeat viewing, I noticed how this character ends up being thematically reminiscent of his Borat persona and it adds an interesting dimension of social commentary to the festivities. The remainder of the supporting cast, particularly of Ricky Bobby's father, gives us a lot to enjoy and the cameos are a nice touch that you come to expect in this kind of movie. The only major problems I had with the film concerned scenes that focused largely on Ricky Bobby's wife, children, and mother. The more the movie followed the tangents of his extended family with Ferrell hidden off screen, the more I just wanted it to focus on the good stuff. Not to pick on the young actors, but their delivery felt too stocky and neither were experienced enough in their art to deliver good, comic performances.

Most importantly, there are some truly, funny beats in "Talladega Nights" that had me wiping away tears. The dinner scene with Ricky Bobby and his family, his prayers to 'baby Jesus', his confrontations with the gay Frenchman, his crash psychosis, his hospital stay, and so many moments come to mind and amuse me just sitting here thinking about them. Again, I can't stress enough that you should use your previous opinion and experience with Ferrell to determine your probable enjoyment of "Talladega Nights". Even mild fans of his work who may find the routine growing old shouldn't expect a surprise here. If you're a faltering fan or annoyed viewer, you should check out "Stranger Than Fiction" instead… it's a whole different tone and performance, one I feel was sadly overlooked by this year's Oscar nominations.

Even in 1080p, the video presentation on this 50GB Blu-Ray disc is sadly a big problem and really misses an important opportunity. The print transfer is clean enough and there aren't any scratches or noise, but the image is two dimensional with shockingly few moments of vibrant, visual power. It has the faded appearance a movie print played at a theater with cheap projection equipment and ragged screens. To make matters worse, the sharp, crisp detailing I've become accustomed to in Blu-Ray releases is absent here… and aside from the increase in resolution, this transfer looks a lot like the standard edition DVD. This is certainly not a Blu-Ray that will 'wow' your friends and, to be completely honest, I'd put this down as one of the worst high definition presentations on either HD format. When compared to "King Kong", the free disc that came with Microsoft's Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive, this PS3 freebie won't convert anyone to the wonders of high definition.

The audio returns the disc to form and brings out every boom, roar, and squeal "Talladega Nights" has to offer. The sound design is rich and full of ambient life even though the NASCAR setting means that all of the effects will be blown through your living room across the entire range of your system. The soundfield really enhances the race scenes and almost made me understand why so many people get a kick out of this loud, aggressive sport… almost. That being said, I'm really beginning to light up when I see that a Blu-Ray disc includes an uncompressed PCM track and this one is as good as they all have been.

Before I jump into the special features, I have to point out the fact that if you got this disc as a free insert with your shiny, new PlayStation 3 there are no extra features and you only get the theatrical cut of the film. The full release of the movie actually comes filled with bells and whistles, which I will discuss below.

Anyway, if you picked up the regular Blu-Ray release of the film, you'll have little to complain about. Like most big-budget, comedy releases, "Talladega Nights" comes to you packed with an 'unrated & uncut' version of the film (that doesn't enhance much) and a full set of features that only appeal to die hard fans. The commentary track has some more laughs as the cast stays in character. I found it amusing, but I suppose it depends on your taste… even I found it grew old after a while and I'm sure my love of Ferrell's comedy style made it much more bearable. There are a series of deleted scenes, some of which cracked me up so much that I wondered why they weren't cut back into this extended edition. There are also a handful of in-character interviews which work much in the same fashion as the commentary track. Beyond these more meaty supplements, there are a ton of small, additional bonuses that don't add much to the proceedings.

The thing that impressed me the most was that each of the additional features are presented in full, high definition and actually look better than the movie itself. All of the supplements from the DVD edition are here and it's nice to see an early Blu-Ray title packed with this much value. However, I wish the producers of the disc would've left out some of the features and fixed the obvious visual problems. 50 gigabytes are great for packing a disc with extra material, but should never come at the cost of a film's presentation.

All in all, this is a fun ride whether you cheer like mad or turn your nose up at NASCAR. People of all ages and backgrounds will find a lot to laugh at as long as they're willing to sit through a few scenes that slow down the film. And if you're one of the people that loved "Old School" or "Anchorman"… welcome home.