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TALLADEGA NIGHTS
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Will Farrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, Amy Adams, Jane Lynch
Director:  Adam McKay
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  122 Minutes
Release Date:  December 12, 2006

“When I wake up in the morning, I PISS excellence!”

Film **1/2

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is a racing comedy that boasts a good 75 minutes of solid laughs.  Which would have been awesome had it not been an over two hour movie.

Maybe this unrated cut messed with the rhythm; I never saw the theatrical version, so I couldn’t say.  It stars Will Farrell, who co-wrote the script with director Adam McKay, reprising their teaming on Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.  These two have a knack for terrific sounding titles.

And the idea is really good…NASCAR is a sport ripe to be kidded and kidded hard.  And Will Farrell is a terrific presence as Ricky Bobby, the southern racer who gets his chance on the speedway when he works in a pit crew for a driver who leaves the race for a bathroom break and some food. 

Ricky was taught at an early age by his stoner, estranged father (the always hysterical Cole) that “if you ain’t first, you’re last”.  And Ricky applies that philosophy on and off the race course, using his best friend and teammate Cal Naughton Jr. (Reilly) to propel himself to one win after another, and scoring a knockout wife (Bibb) in the process.

It takes the arrival of an even better driver from France, Jean Girard (Cohen…Borat in the flesh!) to teach Ricky a few lessons about what really matters in life.  And as Ricky learns to start over sans friends, family and sponsors, he readies himself for one more go at getting back everything he lost.

As mentioned, there are some superbly funny moments in the movie.  The biggest complaint is that many scenes are milked, milked, and milked some more.  These scenes would have been funny at under a minute, but stretched out to four minutes or so, they become painful.  The running time was padded enough.

The racing scenes feel authentic and lend an air of excitement to the proceedings, even when they border on ridiculous, like Ricky winning a race backwards or the crash that goes on for so long they cut to a commercial. 

My favorites were probably the two kids who play Ricky’s sons, and I won’t reveal their hilarious character names here.  But they sure know how to trash talk…quick, someone get those kids to Jesus Camp, and fast!

But when it’s all said and done, there are too many stretches where it seemed like Farrell and McKay were writing just to make themselves laugh.  The cast is first-rate across the board, but there are moments when you realize even the funniest actors with the best timing can only maintain the energy for so long.

Maybe I should resolve to seeing the theatrical cut…maybe certain things get excised from a movie for good reasons.  If you saw a film you loved on the big screen, then just remember that I didn’t see the one you saw. 

Let’s just say that Farrell and McKay get penalized for driving too fast and not paying attention to the caution flags.  Ricky Bobby may be the best there is on the track, but he could have gotten something a little better in a movie.

Video ***

I guess as much as I would have liked to believe, Blu-ray is not an automatic magic portal to a world of superior quality.  While Talladega Nights offers plenty of eye-popping color, it frequently looks unnatural.  Maybe some of the racing was artificial, but the cars often didn't look real to me.  Skin tones sometimes come across with a yellowish tint, as though the characters had jaundice.  A bit of grain is noticeable here and there as well.  I'm kind of highlighting the complaints, but to be fair, for the most part, it's still a good looking transfer; just not up to par with other Blu-ray releases.

Audio ****

No complaints, however, with the 5.1 mix, which sounds more lively and ferocious than ever before on Blu-ray.  You can feel the power of the cars and put yourself right in the middle of the racing action.  Dynamic range is strong, and spoken words come through cleanly throughout.

Features ****

The best extra is the commentary track from Adam McKay and co-star Ian Roberts…it’s hysterical.  The two talk like they made the greatest movie of all time, and you’ll be howling as Roberts reacts to the sight of himself on screen!

There are also some deleted/extended scenes, a funny gag reel, extra racing footage, extra interviews, a look at Farrell returning to Talladega, some of Ricky and Cal’s commercials and PSAs (funny stuff), and some nice menu screens, plus "line-o-rama", so you can enjoy your favorite quips time and time again!

Summary:

Talladega Nights is fast and furious and sadly mixes in a few too many misses with the hits.  Will Farrell is amiable in the lead, but his movie sputters a little too often before finally reaching the finish line.  Next time fellows, try a little more ‘bake’ and a little less ‘shake’.

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