The fastest man on four wheels, Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) is one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. A big, hairy American winning machine, Ricky has everything a dimwitted daredevil could want, a luxurious mansion, a smokin’ hot wife (Leslie Bibb) and all the fast food he can eat. But Ricky’s turbo-charged lifestyle hits an unexpected speed bump when he’s bested by flamboyant Euro-idiot Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) and reduced to a fear-ridden wreck. Losing his wife and job to best bud and fellow fool, Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly), Ricky must kick some serious asphalt if he’s to get his career back on the track, beat Girard and reclaim his fame and fortune. ‘Cause as Ricky Bobby always says, IF YOU AIN’T FIRST, YOU’RE LAST!
De Niro and Scorsese. Dicaprio and Scorsese. Denzel Washington and Spike Lee. Some actor/director combos just work. You can also say that about the comedy team of Will Ferrell and ex-SNL writer Adam McKay. When you’re done laughing at the comparison I just made, you can't say Ferrell/McKay haven't made their careers by working with each other in the same way. Despite what you may think of their collaboration you can't deny they have made some of the most quoted comedies in the past decade. Even the quote I used to start this review - I remember thinking it was a dumb ass line, and yet that's the point. That line stuck in me and my friend’s heads for weeks after we saw this film when it first came out.
Looking back at the collection of ridiculous comedies these two fools made together, ‘Talladega Nights’ will definitely be the one that will be remembered as time passes. This is the tale of the best damn race car driver to ever live. His name is Ricky Bobby (Will Farrell) and he has a set of arbitrary rules that he lives by; the main one being, “If you aren't in first place then you're last.” As much as these rules seem absurdly simplistic and flat out wrong, it is the method to Ricky’s madness that makes him #1. But what would the best race car driver in the world be without his wingman? So, like Maverick had Goose, Ricky has Cal (John C. Reilly). These two idiots made it to the big time and they are inseparable. Well, as long as Cal stays in Ricky’s shadow, that is. Farrell and Reilly are hilarious together as two introverted fools who are on the same level of idiocy. These two actors went on to team up many times later on in their careers, but they will never reach the same level of hilarity that they are in here as they riff off of each other in the most ridiculous but ways.
But like all great men with big egos, they must fall in order to learn humility, and here it comes in the form of Jean Gerard (Sacha Baron Cohen). Jean is a French Formula One driver who has his eyes on Ricky Bobby’s prize. He quickly dethrones Ricky from his title, which causes Ricky to go on hysterical temper tantrums and a fantastically farcical downward spiral. Cohen fits right in as an outsider to the southern town who doesn't get their lingo or repetitive jokes. Right from the first scene Cohen and Farrell are in together, where Jean puts Ricky in an arm bar and threatens to break it in half if he doesn't accept the fact that he likes crepes you know this is a comedy match made in heaven.
Even the supporting cast is strong here, with surprisingly funny performances from Michael Clarke Duncan and Amy Adams. You would never think these two would actually be great playing with such irreverent humor, but they pull it off wonderfully. My only gripe is the movie does fall under the usual comedy trap of being way too long and could use some trimming, specifically in the middle portion of the film where Ricky must find his mojo again. It's not that I'm not laughing during those moments, but you do feel like the film grinds to a halt to give you a halfhearted message at that point. It is an even bigger problem in the unrated cut of this film which gives us an extra twenty minutes of needless or extended scenes that were justly cut, as they stunt the flow of the comedy here. Farrell and McKay would go on driving jokes into the ground like it was their job in later films in both of their careers, and in this unrated extended cut you definitely see the seeds of that unfortunate trait blooming. But that doesn’t spoil the hilarious irreverent fun that I had watching Farrell and Reilly riffing off of each other in hysterical ways.
Theatrical Cut: 4/5
Unrated Extended Cut: 3.5/5
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats:
Sony double dips on Blu-ray with pretty standard packaging. We get the traditional slip cover to hard cover case, with the BD-50 theatrical version and the digital download on the left, and the Unrated Extended version to the right. Once started up on both discs, we are greeted by a main menu that has actual cut scenes from the film in both version.
‘Talladega Nights’ crashes and burns on its second lap around with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that, like Ricky Bobby himself, doesn’t learn from its previous mistakes. Now, this is kind of an odd decision on Sony Pictures’ part. It seems they have chosen to go back to the original negative and remaster ‘Talladega Nights’ in 4K, but only for the theatrical version. Funny enough though, having the 4K remaster and the original master with the extended version shows me that the problem is with the negative. There is very little difference between the two versions as they both show the exact same problems as their 2006 counterpart.
The original Blu-ray had blown out white levels galore, and this caused the entire image to look incredibly flat and affected the color levels a great deal as well. It is the same, only marginally better, in the 4K version. Clarity is still crystal clear in both versions with no grain to be seen. But that is not all there is to a good transfer. Detail work is still an issue and has only been made marginally better. You can still look at the detail on any of the character’s faces in any scene and you will see a serious lack of detail that I personally haven’t seen in a long time. The brighter the scene, the more the lack of detail is evident. That is because of the fact that this transfer has such a gargantuan problem with its white levels that even the power of the great Ricky Bobby himself can’t fix it.
Every exterior shot is met with an extremely flat picture, a muted color pallet, and soft and pasty skin tones. Just take a look at the end of the film, where the epic crash scene happens, or the interview scene where Ricky doesn’t know what to do with his hands, or even the scenes with the announcers, and you will see all three of these problems at once. There is a hilarious part in this film where Ricky prays to Tom Cruise, asking him to use his voodoo magic to put out an invisible fire he thinks is on him. Maybe Ricky should have prayed for a decent video transfer because it is still very, very poor.
Theatrical Version - 3/5
Unrated Extended Cut – 2.5/5
Sony attempts to go full throttle with ‘Talladega Nights’ on Blu-ray, but barely gets out of third gear. Like the video transfer, there are actually two audio formats to choose from, with the new DTS-HD MA 5.1 transfer being relegated to the theatrical version, and the same LPCM 5.1 mix that was on the original release. As for the new mix, it's entertaining without packing the punch that it has the potential to have. Thinking about how ‘Talladega Nights’ is a parody of the NASCAR culture, I want to hear overly loud engines whizzing by my field of sound while loud rock music plays in the background. We do get that, only to a lesser effect. Yes, cars whiz by your field of sound and through your surrounds, but they lack punch, presence, and weight. When the over the top car flipping scene happens I want to feel it, and I would be lying if I said I didn't need to turn up the volume a few notches to get the effect I was looking for. The LFE channel is serviceable while suffering from the same problem. I don't hate this track; it is just a tad underwhelming considering its older LPCM counterpart.
Speaking of the superior LPCM 5.1 mix, this is how you want to listen to an over the top spoof of NASCAR. Every engine revving, car flipping, car crashing effect has a punch to it that the new mix doesn't. When you hear AC/DC’s ‘TNT’, or Salvia’s ‘Click Click Boom’ you feel the music come through your speakers and draw you in. Nothing here is going to blow your hair back, but it is still enjoyable. Yes, some of these LPCM mixes can be space hogs on your disc, but they can provide a fuller more robust experience. This is the superior mix and it's a shame we don't get the option to opt for this version on the 4K theatrical version.
Theatrical Version - 3.5/5
Unrated Extended Cut - 4/5
Disc 1 (All New Special Features)
“25 Years Later” Commentary with Director and Cast – A pointless commentary track with McKay, Farrell, and Reilly. These guys really need a straight man to play off of, or at least someone to reign them in. They barely even acknowledge the fact that they are commenting on the actual movie. It's just more riffing on each other’s jokes and running jokes into the ground as they tend to do.
Adam’s Video Diaries (11:46 HD) – Video diaries of random scenes in the movie. The most hilarious one is with Mos Def interacting with Sacha Baron Cohen.
Line-O-Rama (4:45 HD) – A collection of alternate takes where Farrell riffs on certain scenes.
Raw Takes (16:44 HD) – A collection of scenes extended from the already extended cut of the film where jokes just get driven into the ground. One scene is an extended version of the magic man scene; another is the scene where Amy Adams gets on the table in the bar.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (42:36 HD) – If you want even more from Ricky, Cal and the gang then you will feel right at home here. Highlights are even scenes where Cal calls Bobby trying to get him back, an extended scene of where Bobby goes to Jean’s house where Jean’s husband sticks his trained dogs on him, and an extended scene of where everyone is picking on Chip at the dinner table.
Auditions (9:16 HD) – Four auditions of most of the supporting cast. The best part is the auditions of Ricky’s two kids Walker and Texas Ranger.
Interviews (12:28 HD) – Interested in seeing mock interviews where Farrell, Reilly, and Cohen stay in character? This is an amusing bit that displays their commitment to their characters.
Teaser Trailer (2:16 HD)
Theatrical Trailer (2:32 HD)
Disc 2 (Extended Cut Special Features)
Director and Friends Commentary – Actor Ian Roberts joins McKay for another pointless commentary track. They do comment on what is happening on screen here, but we gain no knowledge about McKay’s inspiration. Instead it's just them joking about what is on screen instead of informing the audience.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (25:54 HD) – Even more deleted scenes of these guys playing off of eachother in hilarious ways. My fave was a scene between Larry and Ricky where they have a stand off in the bathroom.
Gag Real (2:27 HD) – A fun collection of outtakes of the cast having fun. It's amusing to see Farrell and Reilly not being able to keep it together.
Will Ferrell Returns to Talladega (5:26 HD) – Will Ferrell’s idea of a press junket where he goes to Talladega to promote the movie in his own special way.
Ricky & Cal’s Commercials (1:38 HD) – Unfortunately Farrell is the only one on these commercials, and even though they are semi funny, Farrell plays them too straight. The commercials at the end credits of the movie were more amusing.
Ricky & Cal’s Public Service Announcement (2:38 HD) – A hilarious collection of PSA’s told in ridiculous scenarios by Farrell and Reilly.
Bonus Race Footage (1:18 HD) – A collection of race footage taken from the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (2:32 HD)
‘Talladega Nights’ very much feels like an elongated SNL skit. But unlike most movies that feel that way, this one actually works. Ferrell and Reilly are at the top of their comedic game and their irreverent humor is infectious. Not all jokes land, and there are a few jokes that feel like they got run into the ground, but it is always followed up by a good belly laugh. The reason why I think this film works so well for so many people is that, yes this is a parody of Deep South country types that love NASCAR, but in no way is it mean spirited or sadistic. It is more like a gentle ribbing and one that I think the biggest County Bumpkin can enjoy. But unfortunatly there is a huge problem with the quality of the transfer here. There is a quotable line in the movie that I feel like sums up the video transfer perfectly. At one point, Duncan yells at Ricky “Don't you put that on me Ricky Bobby! Don't you put that on me!” Well unfortunately Michael, the curse of Ricky Bobby and his video transfers is strong here and it turns this Blu-ray from a recommend to a For Fans Only.