Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 

Despite a promising premise -- Will Ferrell meets NASCAR -- this latest showcase for Hollywood's most gonzo film comedian has a lower laugh-per-minute ratio than previous Ferrell vehicles Elf and Anchorman. Ferrell and director/writing partner Adam McKay don't really seem that interested in NASCAR culture, so a lot of potential material --from the pit crews to the other drivers to the fans -- is left unexplored.

As a result, the best bits have nothing to do with the plot or setting: Like Ricky Bobby's repeated insistence on praying to "baby Jesus" at dinner. Even when his wife and father-in-law protest that Jesus grew up to become a man, Ricky Bobby matter-of-factly asserts: "I prefer the Christmas Jesus." Seemingly rooted in improvisation, this is the kind of movie where the outtakes are often funnier than what made the final cut.

Unlike previous Ferrell fests, there's a soft attempt at social satire here via the introduction of a French, gay (gasp!) driver who challenges good-ole-boy Ricky Bobby's racetrack supremacy. Poking fun at the fear of homosexuality and gung-ho idiocy of certain segments of American culture is kind of brave considering how wide the film's likely audience is, but the attempt feels too half-hearted to really accomplish much. It's like a watered-down version of a Trey Parker and Matt Stone comedy.

What Talladega Nights does share with those previous Ferrell films is a generosity when it comes to the large, able supporting cast: John C. Reilly reworks his dumb-as-bricks, yes-man sidekick routine from Boogie Nights. A gloriously dry Gary Cole and Jane Lynch shine as Ricky Bobby's parents. Sacha Baron Cohen is nearly unrecognizable as the snooty French competitor. And Junebug's Amy Adams is terribly underused as Ricky Bobby's personal assistant/potential romantic interest until busting out the fireworks for her one big scene.

Now showing, multiple locations.

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