Notes from the back row 

Turn left and boot it


The big movie out this week is Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a mix of two things I don’t really understand: Why everyone loves Will Ferrel so much, and what is the appeal of NASCAR racing?

Granted Ferrel has come a long ways since his old days of starring/writing some of the shittiest movies ever ( Superstar, Night at the Roxbury) but, to me, he’s always been a solid sketch comedy actor whose quirky weirdness makes him perfect in supporting roles ( Old School, Zoolander.) I’ll probably be lynched for saying this but I don’t think he’s funny or original enough to be the main focus of a feature film. Case in point: how much better Old School was than Anchorman . And don’t even start with Elf because it was more sickly-sweet than funny and doesn’t belong in the same category.

Regardless, Talladega Nights is definitely good for a few laughs. Teamed up with director and co-writer Adam McKay, Ferrel recycles the plot of Anchorman and adds a redneck, sports movie flavour. In this version of the Moron’s journey (Cocky successful idiot falls from grace, hits rock bottom, and battles back with new appreciation for what he has) Ferrel plays a speed demon, born in the back of a speeding Chevelle and raised for racing by his mostly absent father with such advice as, "If you’re not fast, you’re last" and "the fast get paid, and laid."

Working in the NASCAR pits Ferrel finally gets a chance to drive, left-turns his way to a tremendous upset and, after a nifty montage, is quickly the champ of the circuit, a true hero complete with trophy wife, bratty kids, and a dim-witted best buddy named Cal, played by John C. Reilly. It all comes crashing down of course at the hands of NASCAR’s greatest nightmare. A Formula 1 driver who’s both French and gay. Ricky Bobby crashes, thinks he’s on fire, thinks he’s paralyzed, loses his wife and fortune and hits rock bottom delivering pizzas before reuniting with his father and rekindling the competitive spirit for a third act comeback that’s pretty funny to boot.

Ferrel is a sketch comic and Talladega Nights is a series of mildly funny sketches held together with a thin plot that is lifted, along with the lead character’s initials of "R.B." right out of Anchorman (replacing the machismo idiot with a jock idiot). The good thing is that Talladega makes better use of its supporting cast, led by Reilly – who’s spectacular – and, after a few puffs off those special cigarettes all the kids are into these days, Will Ferrel ends up delivering a handful of good laughs mixed in with exciting race sequences and zany slapstick.

As well, Shane Adams, the only guy in town who’ll notice, should be stoked on all the cameos by real-life NASCAR stars. It’s nothing special but Talladega Nights provides a laugh and is a good send-up of sports films in general.

Generally, I’m not sold on Robin Williams either, but this week he delivers a watchable performance in a suspense-drama-moody flick called The Night Listener . Williams plays a past-his-prime NYC talk radio personality who stumbles upon a manuscript by a 14-year-old boy who has suffered for years at the hands of abusive parents. Williams gets the boy on the phone and on the air, but eventually harbours doubt about the validity of his story. So he whips out to Wisconsin, gets his Nancy Drew on and things get dark and weird from there. Billed as a "think" film, The Night Listener investigates the blurred line (especially these days) between reality and fiction and peeks into the murky realm of true identity.

For similar themes, only with walking, talking cows, you can also check out Barnyard, opening Friday. I’m not kidding.

AT VILLAGE 8 Aug. 4-10: Night Listener; Barnyard; Little Man; Talladega Nights; Pirates of the Caribbean; Miami Vice; Ant Bully; John Tucker Must Die; Monster House; You, Me and Dupree. Starting Aug. 9: World Trade Center. AT RAINBOW THEATRE Aug. 4-10:


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