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

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.

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.