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

Racing at the Movies

Fans of action films love chase scenes, because they generally pack a ton of adrenaline and help make a movie more tense and exciting. Cars have also been used extensively in films as a status symbol. Other films show car racing instead of chases, with several having a plot that is centered on racing and nothing else.

The top-grossing film where racing is a central theme is “Cars,” which would spawn the sequel “Cars 2” because of its great success. The film stars the voices of Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy as Lightning McQueen and Mater, who suffer several setbacks on the way to California. They need to get to Los Angeles in order to race in the finals to win the coveted Piston Cup, but must escape the town of Radiator Springs, where they are stuck. The film also stars the voice of Paul Newman, in one of his final screen roles before his death.

In the non-animated category, “Days of Thunder” is arguably one of the most popular racing films. It was released in 1990 and starred Tom Cruise, who met his future wife Nicole Kidman on the film. The film was an emotional drama made at the height of Cruise’s popularity, so it was naturally a hit at the box office. Though there was talk of a sequel, Cruise’s busy schedule and impending wedding to Kidman made a second film impossible, since executives did not want to recast Cruise’s role.

In 2001, a small film called “The Fast and the Furious” was released without a ton of fanfare. It starred then-unknowns like Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and Michelle Rodriguez in a story about a group of street racers who have a system for hijacking tractor trailers for money. They sell the goods for cash, which allows them to continue modifying their cars with expensive parts for racing. Walker plays an undercover cop who tries to infiltrate the ring and finds himself begrudgingly respecting the leader of the group and falling in love with his sister. It spawned the sequels “2 Fast 2 Furious,” “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” and “Fast and Furious.” All of these films rank in the top eleven all-time top-grossing films about racing.

When MTV started airing episodes of the cult Japanese anime hit “Speed Racer,” it introduced the series to a whole new audience. Those new fans demanded merchandise and were elated when the Wachowski brothers, the duo behind “The Matrix” trilogy, announced plans to make a live-action version of the series. Released in 2008, the film boasted an all-star cast that included Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Matthew Fox, who had just become famous due to the success of “Lost.”

The top racing films of all time are mostly dramatic, though a few, like “Cars,” are comedies as well. Few of the entries are outright comedies like “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” Starring Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby and comedy veteran John C. Reilly, it would become a box office smash hit that continued Ferrell’s reign as the king of movie comedies. The film is a send up of NASCAR and racing culture that is full of sight gags and physical comedy, which are both areas where Ferrell excels.

Another unabashed comedy is “The Cannonball Run,” which is the oldest of the top-grossing racing films, having been released in 1981. It starred Burt Reynolds, Sammy Davis, Jr., Farrah Fawcett, and Jackie Chan in one of his earliest and smallest roles. The story is about an illegal car race that sends several groups of car drivers across the country in a bid to win. Along the way, the racers will go out of their way to sabotage their fellow competitors in order to gain an edge on the pack. It is irreverent fun that would launch “Cannonball Run II” three years later.

Occasionally, a racing film has no script because it is a documentary that focuses on real-life drivers and racers rather than fictional ones. Such is the case with “NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience,” which used the huge screens in IMAX theaters in order to really capture the pulse-pounding action on a real race track. The 3D technology only enhances the action, which could very well make this the most daring and thrilling of all the top racing films. It may not have a love story or a plot, but it is just as entertaining as any of the other top racing films of all time.

Movie Review – Zombieland

ZOMBIELAND – REVIEW

10 out of 10

What can I say? Zombieland is the perfect zombie movie. A potent mix of horror, gore, action, comedy and buddy movies, the film works on all levels and is seriously the most fun you can possibly have at the movies. It made me jump, made me laugh and also made me genuinely care about the characters. The film is a visually arresting, highly stylized treat that entertains all the way through and will leave you wanting more. The premise of the film is relatively simple. The world has been overrun by zombies and the few survivors of the human race are constantly on the move trying to find someplace safe to lay their heads at night. The movie starts out brilliantly with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) telling us about his rules for survival in post-apocalyptic zombie filled America.

The opening credits ensue and we are shown various scenes of people running from zombies in the slow motion technique popularized by Watchmen. From there we are introduced to Columbus who explains what has happened to the world and why he has managed to survive so long. Being an introvert by nature, Columbus has managed to stay alive by sticking to his self created rules such as cardio good, avoid bathrooms and the double tap (always shoot twice). More rules are introduced as the film plays and the gag never grows old. Columbus decides to head towards Ohio in hopes that he will find his parents alive and well. On the way he hooks up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the most bad ass zombie killer you can imagine. Just to clarify, the characters call each other by their destinations, not by their actual names. Tallahassee explains that it’s easier not to grow attached to each other that way.

The pair are complete opposites which allows for some great buddy movie comedy and from here on in Zombieland plays like a road trip comedy on acid. Attacked by zombies at every turn, the two soon meet up with two sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who have managed to survive and after a few false starts; the foursome begins to trust and like one another.

Woody Harrelson as tough guy zombie slayer Tallahassee is ideally cast and it is the best role of his career. Harrelson is hilarious in the film, displaying his impeccable comic timing while also showcasing his tough guy swagger. Watching him kill zombies is as pleasurable for the audience as it is for the character. Harrelson shares great chemistry with Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus, in effect portraying the Odd Couple as zombie killers. Eisenberg is solid, perfecting the nerdy, wimpy guy and he reminds me more than a little bit of king of the dweebs, Michael Cera. In fact Cera must be kicking himself for turning down this role (I’m assuming he was offered it). Emma Stone as tough older sister, Wichita, is quite good and I believe she has a bright future on the silver screen. Abigail Breslin as her little sister, Little Rock, is one tough little cookie and proves that she is much more than Little Miss Sunshine. There is also a side-splitting cameo from… I don’t want to ruin it… let’s just say it is a brilliant cameo from a comedy god.

First time director, Ruben Fleischer, does a great job of moving the film along at a breakneck pace while also mining the comedy gold out of every situation the characters find themselves in. He has a wonderful visual style that borrows heavily from Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead remake, Watchmen) and he is certainly a director to watch in the future. It’s not an easy thing to make something fresh out of a zombie flick, but Fleischer takes the genre (sub-genre?) to a whole new level.

To sum it up, Zombieland is a splatteristic, gory, jump out of your seat horror film that also happens to be one of the funniest films of the year. Anchored by terrific performances, Zombieland is a must see horror/comedy delight. Better than Shaun of the Dead or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, Zombieland is the definitive zombie movie.