Funny. Funnier. And more fun. And then the fun skids to a stop. You know how it goes: Plot gets in the way. Somebody decides it’s time to get all warm and fuzzy. But until then, Talladega Nights is a chance for Will Ferrell to let it rip as an indelibly stupid NASCAR driver from North Carolina named Ricky Bobby. Thanks to Ricky’s pal and wingman, Cal (John C. Reilly, slumming with no shame) — they call themselves Shake and Bake — Ricky is riding high with a white-trash wife (Leslie Bibb), two incredibly bratty sons (Houston Tumlin and Grayson Russell) and the feeling that his career is being watched over by the baby Jesus. Ricky has no interest in the grown-up Jesus.
Working again with his Anchorman director and co-writer Adam McKay, Ferrell is a smart actor with a natural clown’s gift for playing dumb. That makes for a delicious contrast in his scenes with Sacha Baron Cohen (a.k.a. Ali G) as Ricky’s archrival Jean Girard, a gay French Formula Un driver with an outrageous accent, a flouncy husband (Andy Richter), a mad desire to kiss Ricky full on the lips and a habit while racing of reading Camus and sipping a macchiato.
Cohen and Ferrell riff off each other with inspired lunacy. So it’s hard to watch when the plot thickens and congeals with scenes involving Ricky’s love for his absentee daddy (Gary Cole) and a totally unnecessary romance with his assistant, Susie, well played by Amy Adams but quite a comedown from her Oscar-nominated turn last year in Junebug. Even the baby Jesus can’t save Ricky Bobby after that.