Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) is the king of the racetrack, but there's trouble brewing in his petrolhead paradise. Sacha Baron Cohen's snooty French Formula 1 veteran has come to teach him a lesson in driving manners. Ostensibly a biopic of a fictional racing legend, Talladega Nights is really an excuse to poke fun at the redneck world of NASCAR, with its lunkhead heroes and corporate sucking up. Much like its star, Talladega Nights is erratic, infuriating and very, very funny.
It's hard to get a handle on Will Ferrell. There are times when he seems a perfect candidate for the "new Peter Sellers" crown that Mike Myers has been trying to claim for so long. In his best films - and this is certainly one of them - Ferrell embarks on flights of dizzying fantasy that can leave an audience helpless with laughter. But he misses the mark as often as he hits it.
This is particularly true of Talladega Nights, a film that does for NASCAR racing what Anchorman did for 70s TV news shows. A bewildering combination of traditional sports flick and surreal comedy, the film is at its best when Ferrell and his co-star John C Reilly (as a doormat teammate) are given free rein to improvise. There are moments here - Ferrell trying to drive with a wild cougar in his back seat, Baron Cohen's Perrier-sponsored racer sipping an espresso in mid race - that are fall-off-your-chair funny, but there are also long stretches with no jokes at all. It's as if Ferrell and his director/writer pal Adam McKay took a formulaic Hollywood vehicle and simply doodled in the margins.
Talladega Nights is released in UK cinemas on Friday 15th September 2006.