Silly, inconsistent and completely frivolous, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby also happens to be one of the funniest movies this side of 2006. Director Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) returns with a paint-by-numbers plot and a star (Will Ferrell) performing well-rehearsed tricks. Despite a yearning for new comedy ground, I can't deny that there's a good reason Ferrell is one of the most highly paid actors working today: He's hilarious. And he surrounds himself with outrageous, funny entertainers.
Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, a stock-car racer born to drive but lacking direction. Ricky only has eyes for number one, even at the expense of his best friend (John C. Reilly). With his babe of a wife (the very funny Leslie Bibb), hellcat kids and mansion, Ricky seems to have it all. But complications ensue when a French driver, Jean (Sacha Baron Cohen), invades Ricky's turf and takes over.
With his childish expressions and doughy body, Ferrell is by turns delicate, endearing and completely over-the-top. Unafraid of surrealism or slapstick, he'll clearly do anything for the joke, but is often at his best when he subtly underplays a scene.
Reilly is brilliant as Ricky's best friend and number-two man. His comic roles are few and far between, but hopefully this turn is a portent of things to come. Cohen ("Da Ali G Show") isn't up to par as Ricky's out-of-the-closet nemesis, but the filmmakers squeeze every possible joke out of a gay racer.
The film's first 20 minutes sail along brilliantly. When the story gets going, however, it becomes apparent that there won't be any surprises in the plot department. While jokes are repeatedly used to cover up plot holes, the successful use of surrealist humor (Elvis Costello shows up for no real reason) compensates. Imagine attending a NASCAR race with the funniest, wildest person you know. Sure, you might get hot and a little overwhelmed, but you'd laugh a lot and would never regret the experience.