The bad news: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is no Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Sure, the titles are suspiciously similar. And yeah, both star Will Ferrell, both are directed by Adam McKay, and both try to nail the same rambling, ridiculous style of comedy that's Ferrell's been perfecting since his days on SNL.
Since Anchorman's probably the best movie Ferrell will ever make, comparing Talladega Nights to it isn't quite fair. Talladega has a personality of its own, even if it's an unlikable one: This is a movie about rednecks and NASCAR, a movie in which Ferrell just does an unfunny version of his SNL George W. Bush impression, a movie which has none of the improvised, don't-give-a-shit charm of Anchorman (instead, it has all the lame plot devices of, say, one of Adam Sandler's lesser works). But all that aside, Talladega is something else, too: Pretty goddamn funny.
Ferrell's Ricky Bobby is a borderline retarded, all-American racer who drives a Wonder Bread-branded car and serves as a hero to mouth-breathing NASCAR fans everywhere. But then a nemesis shows up: The all-French racer Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen). Girard wears the Perrier emblem on his racing uniform, he reads Camus and sips cappuccino, and—in perhaps the worst affront to god-fearing Americans—he's gay. Beaten by Girard, Ricky Bobby is left to race his way back to the top.
Weirdly, Ferrell's far from the best thing about Talladega—he seems content to phone it in, playing Ricky Bobby as a bland, dumb chump. Alongside director McKay, Ferrell seems inexplicably intent on reigning in Anchorman's glorious insanity—instead, the two string together redneck-centric jokes that even Jeff Foxworthy would find too easy. Rather, it's the film's two supporting characters who make Talladega so entertaining—Da Ali G Show's brilliant Cohen is hilarious as the crêpe-loving Girard, and he's shown up only by the great John C. Reilly, who giddily plays Ricky Bobby's eager, loyal friend Cal. Whenever Reilly and Cohen are on screen, Talladega Nights is a blast—fast, goofy, unpredictable, and willing to go all-out for laughs. You know, sort of like Anchorman.