Will Ferrell/TALLADEGA NIGHTS
I like him a lot. I like the air of comically clueless machismo he is able to project in films like ANCHORMAN. He is still the only actor ever to do a really convincing impression of George W. Bush, capturing the stupidity and the fratboy arrogance and the creepy lost-boy quality, the guy who is trying really hard to fit in. His Ron Burgundy in ANCHORMAN is terribly funny, a preening poser who actually believes that the name San Diego is Spanish for “a whale’s vagina” and who ends each newscast with those immortal words “you stay classy San Diego.”
What really distinguishes him from most of the other comic actors right now is his absolute conviction, the way he commits to these people and their outrageous behavior. I love that glorious meltdown in ANCHORMAN when his beloved dog Baxter is apparently killed, his helpless screaming in a telephone booth: “I’m in a glass cage of emotion!” His appearance in ELF, wearing a bright green elf jacket and canary yellow tights, is gloriously funny but oddly real: he doesn’t look silly. Ferrell is as grounded as Johnny Depp. Ron Bugundy is as complete as Capt. Jack Sparrow.
And when he goes for broke, he goes for broke. His Jacobim Mugatu in ZOOLANDER is never less than hilarious, making great comic moments out of the simplest of gestures: if Johnny Depp astounded me by being hilarious simply standing up in PIRATES II, Will Ferrell works a similar magic running strangely across an improbably large office space in ZOOLANDER.
He’s the anti-Buster Keaton. A big physical meaty presence, his body is hairy and undeveloped, exactly the body we’re all secretly afraid we’ll see when we look in the mirror. Keaton is graceful even when clumsy: his falls and stunts are dazzling. Keaton never ran the way Ferrell runs. I wish I was Buster Keaton, but I think I am Will Ferrell.
All that said, I can’t say I was terribly happy with TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY. I wanted to like it a lot, but found it oddly lacking in the inspired lunacy that made ANCHORMAN fun. It feels odd to be chastising someone for aiming higher, and I’m not complaining too loudly here. But TALLADEGA NIGHTS only occasionally takes off. The opening is promising, a very funny quote that gets even funny when the unlikely source is revealed.
I’m glad that they didn’t settle for an easy remake of ANCHORMAN. This film has a much grittier feel to it: it actually seems to be taking place in something like the real world, there are none of the talking dogs or animated dream sequences that characterized the earlier film. A good deal of it looks like it was shot on location, at actual race tracks with very real looking crowds.
There’s a moment in Heller’s CATCH-22 where we are told that Yossarian doesn’t see the point of athletic competition: it only means you can do something pointless better than anyone else. In terms of sheer pointlessness, few pursuits can beat NASCAR. Lots of cars drive round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round. The only thing funnier than the idea of grown adults taking part in this activity and calling it a sport is the pride they take in what can only be the most pyrrhic of victories: the flag waving, the sponsorships, the obscene amounts of money changing hands, and above all the Macho Posturing that Ferrell skewers so well.