Two Funny Comedies, “Talladega Nights” and “Wedding Crashers”, But Only One is a Good Film

Wedding Crashers – 3 Stars (Good)
Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby – 2 Stars (Average)

There are comedies that can make you laugh that are not good films because they lack any meaningful substance or worthwhile message. An example would be “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby”, worth a few laughs with Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby, but not able to get you emotionally involved in a character’s plight.

Then there are comedies that can make you laugh that appear to have a lack of substance, but slowly pull you into a character as you become emotionally involved with his situation. An example would be “Wedding Crashers” with Owen Wilson as John Beckwith.

So what makes one film good and another just average? The difference is in the script, the direction and the acting.

For openers, Talladega Nights was written by Will Farrell, who also plays the lead role, and by Adam McKay, who is the director. My experience has been that when the director of a film also writes the script, the script, the direction and the movie all suffer the majority of the time. When the lead actor of the film is also a writer of the film, the situation becomes compounded, like the blind leading the deaf through a minefield.

Both Farrell and McKay try to tell a story with their comedy but fail because not only is the comedy unbelievable, but the character of Ricky Bobby is not likeable enough to convince us that there is human drama unfolding here.

McKay joins a long list of other writer/directors who have bombed in these dual roles, including Vanessa Parise (terrible rating) for Kiss the Bride; Peter Weir (average rating) for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Nancy Myers (average rating) for Something’s Gotta Give; Thomas Bezucha (average rating) for The Family Stone; Michael McGowan (average rating) for Saint Ralph; Jared Hess (terrible rating) for Napoleon Dynamite; Robert Rodriguez (terrible rating) for Once Upon a Time in Mexico; and Paul Thomas Anderson (terrible rating) for Punch-Drunk Love.

Exceptions to this dual role as writer/director are Kirk Jones (excellent rating) in Waking Ned Devine, and Tim McCanlies (excellent rating) for Secondhand Lions. Both Jones and McCanlies are master storytellers in these films, and other writer/directors who have failed could learn a lot from them.

Wedding Crashers, another funny comedy, is just the opposite of Talladega Nights in that Steve Faber and Bob Fisher can tell a good story, and David Dobkin can direct a good comedy film. Their effort comes together because Owen Wilson as John Beckwith is likeable and has the acting style and ability to emotionally connect with the viewer.

We can see ourselves in his predicament-living a life of fun and pleasure at the expense of others, and then developing a conscience that foreshadows personal growth.

After taking advantage of so many lovely, unsuspecting bridesmaids, he slows down enough to notice Rachel McAdams as Claire Cleary, who shares his sense of humor and light-heartedness. The more he looks at Claire, the more he wants to look at Claire.

Claire, however, is spoken for by a person she has not yet discovered is really a self-absorbed, dictatorial, manipulative, rich jerk, whereas John Beckwith appears more worthless but is wanting and willing to change his ways.

It is interesting that Vince Vaughn as Jeremy Grey’s character, Beckwith’s wedding crasher partner and best friend, is not nearly as likeable, although he also decides to get married to Claire’s immature, dippy sister Gloria Cleary (Isla Fisher).

I saw the unrated and uncut version of Talladega Nights, and the uncorked (not rated) version of Wedding Crashers, the theatrical version was rated R with sexual content, nudity and filthy language.

Despite watching the additional footage not shown in theaters, and enduring the sexual content and language, I would watch Wedding Crashers again but would not watch Talladega Nights again if you offered to pay me.

Moviegoers are fooled less often than you may think, and it becomes evident at awards time. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, was nominated in 2007 for the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Comedy, but did not win. Wedding Crashers was nominated in 2006 for the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Comedy and did win.

Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley

Barber Shop: Their Own Style of Comedy

If you take a look at the list of movies and TV shows releasing in the United States, and the ones that succeed, you will find that comedy dominates the list. People love to laugh, and as the world becomes more and more troubled – with global warming, terrorism, and crime on the rise – there is an ever-increasing need for films that distract people from these issues. Or help them deal with these issues in a way that does not send them crying with despair.

As the country has a large African American population, the number of movies catering to them, is also quite high. While there are a few dramatic and romantic movies in this space, a large number of them are comedy movies. And the actors who star in these movies are hugely popular and iconic figures in their own right. Think of Eddie Murphy who was fantastic in the Nutty Professor films, Norbit, and Beverly Hills Cop series. There is Queen Latifah who is almost equally popular for her comic timing and style. She has been in the Ice Age films, as the voice of Ellie, she has her own talk show, and she was also part of the Barber Shop franchise (the second film titled Barbershop 2: Back in Business).

Barber Shop has been a very popular series for its star, Ice Cube, who has multiple other comic successes to his credit. It is set in a barbershop in the South Side of Chicago. The first film introduced Calvin (Ice Cube) who inherits a barbershop, a cornerstone of life in America at one time, from his father. He discovers the true value of his inheritance only after he sells it, as he realizes that it is a place for people of the community to bond.

The second Barber Shop film took the same premise and setting, and some of the same characters, and dealt with a new set of challenges. In this film, the antagonists were urban developers trying to do away with all mom and pop stores for a branded world. Ice Cube was joined by Queen Latifah for this film though Anthony Anderson (who has lately been seen in the hit TV series Blackish) who was in the first one, sat this one out.

He makes a comeback in the comedy movie Barber Shop: The Next Cut, reprising his role as J.D. This one also has Nicki Minaj. The story is about the increasing violence and crime in the neighborhood of the barbershop. Calvin and the rest of the crew decide to tackle it in their own way.

Will this be the last film of the series? That is hard to say, as the previous film had released a decade before this one. Even if a sequel is not on the cards, a remake may just pop up a decade after.

Animated Comedy Movies

Comedy movies have been around since film saw its beginnings, but the animated genre has gained popularity throughout recent years. Though animation is particularly popular with children, comedies geared at adult audiences have also been released in this spectacular format. It’s more commonly seen on the television networks (with animated adult comedy shows such as Family Guy and South Park) but it has been done on the big screen.

Which animated comedy movies should you watch? It depends what you are looking for. These family and mature audience films of the gene are a great place to start.

Animated Family Comedy Movies

The Madagascar Films (2005; 2008) – These films serve up adventure and plenty of laughs, with a cast of animal characters who suddenly find themselves in the wilds of Africa after only having known life within the sweet captivity of the Central Park Zoo. The characters are voiced by some of today’s best loved comedians including Chris Rock, Ben stiller and Sacha Baron Cohen. A third film is set to be released in 2012.

Monsters VS Aliens (2009) – Got a family full of sci-fi fans and of course, lovers of comedy movies? You’ll all enjoy this computer animated comedy about a woman who is struck by a meteorite on her wedding day, transformed into a giant, taken captive by a secret government compound and befriended by a group of strange but lovable monsters  who’ll join with her to combat aliens and save the world!

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) – The beloved children’s book is brought to life by a hilarious cast and modern animation. Join Flint, the wanna-be inventor, who finally sees some short lived success as he falls for the girl, creates enough food to fill the bellies of everyone in town and later deals with the comical catastrophe that ensues!

Animated Comedy Movies

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) – There’s trouble in Toontown in this classic favorite. Families with older children might consider this film for a family night pick. Some scenes may give younger children a fright. The film is a wonderful combination of comedy, mystery, fantasy and live action mixed with animation. 

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999) – South Park took hold of its success and went the comedy movies route when it was brought to the big screen in 1999. As usual, fans’ favorite characters -Kyle, Stan, Cartman and friends- are in the midst of comical adventure, with no shortage of foul language and extremely crude humor. 

Eight Crazy Nights (2002) – If you’re an Adam Sandler fan (and of his more adult films) you may enjoy watching him dish out the laughs (and plenty of song, those this isn’t your typical musical number) in full cartoon style animation.