August 7, 2006
Of stars but
By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer
There are many sides of America that the
rest of us are hesitant to accept, and they
always seem to make
for good stories
(remember "Broke- Talladega Nights:
back Mountain?"). The Ballad of
Though there is a Ricky Bobby
gay character in
"Talladega Nights: At the Showcase
The Ballad of Ricky and Quality 16
Bobby," this latest Columbia
satire about contem-
ism starring-Will Ferrell is actually a slightly
different film than that one. Its premise indi-
cates a can't-miss laffer: Ferrell's consider-
able comedic charm inhabiting a satire on the
world of NASCAR. But like many films that
disappoint, this one does so out of the sheer
heights of what it could have been, not of the
sophomoric, sporadically funny set of loosely
related sequences that it is.
Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, a man who,
since birth, has had but one debire: He wants
to go fast. It's a good thing, then, that while
orking as a jackman for an abysmal NAS-
CAR team, he gets called on to replace a driv-
er who has left his car in mid-race, preferring
to eat cheeseburgers on the infield instead.
From the moment he gets behind that wheel,
Ricky Bobby goes fast and, with the help of
his teammate Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reil-
ly, "The Aviator"), he comes to dominate the
ceived gruff, crude nature of its fans.
But NASCAR remains one of the few activi-
ties in America that filters through real Amer-
icana in its every turn. While other sports
are busy banning substances, arresting fans
and suspending players, NASCAR makes no
effort to disguise what it is. Ads are a fact of
American life, and NASCAR is the only sport
in America that embraces them and builds its
image off of sponsors. It makes sense then that
the movie does the same. Product placements
are many, but in a film about NASCAR, seeing
Ricky Bobby drive in Puma shoes and mention
Powerade every time he says grace because
it's in his endorsement contract should bring
smiles rather than groans.
Still, "The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" is real-
ly the ballad of the ill-directed and under-uti-
lized stars. Let's begin with Ali G's Girard,
who is supposed to be funny simply because
he is gay, insists on smooching Ricky and
has a ridiculous, apparently French accent.
But Ali G is far bigger than ridiculous
accents; he's an accomplished comedian with
an eccentric mantra that, if unleashed, has
enough energy to carry a film (see "Mada-
gascar"). But here he has only a terrible
accent that is trumpeted around shamelessly
by the merest skeleton of dialogue.
And then there's Amy Adams (Academy
Award nominee for "Junebug") who plays
Ricky's assistant and subsequent love
interest Susan. Adams, who had an excel-.
lent recurring role on the American ver-
sion of "The Office" is egregiously stifled
in this film; though she has a significant
role in Ricky's life, she's in only a hand-
ful of scenes. Even when she is there, she
has only a couple of winding anti-climatic
lines, and then disappears completely in
Ricky's final big race against Girard.
Adams deserves better than his half-baked
comedy and of course, so does Ferrell. One
of the finest alums of "Saturday Night Live,"
Ferrell has shown great versatility as an
actor and comedian. He's had better comedic
efforts in the past and he'll have more in the
future. If he hadn't co-written the screenplay
for this hollow film, we could at least have
felt sorry for him.
"Shh, if you talk too much people won't catch all the product placements."
But then arrives Jean Girard (Sacha Baron
Cohen, TV's "Da Ali G show"), a French For-
mula 1 driver who travels to America to defeat
Ricky. Will the Frenchman sponsored by Per-
rier unseat the Ricky Bobby as NASCAR's
next great driver? More importantly, will
Ricky's self-absorbed pride step aside long
enough to let him see what a sham his wife,
his friends and his whole life are? Or will a
hysterical bout with fake paralysis be the end
of this ballad?
Given its premise and star, "Talladega
Nights" could have easily been the funni-
est movie of the year, but thanks to shoddy
writing and jokes that depend too often on
delivery and too infrequently substance, it's a
mediocre comedy at best. But it's depiction of
NASCAR nation, far realer than its depiction
of the racing itself, is a pleasantly introspec-
tive surprise. NASCAR is the fastest-growing
sport in America, but outside of its backyard
in the Southeast, it's regarded with contempt,
both for the inanity of the sport and the per-
Raconteurs land with a 'Bang'
By Kimberly Chou . climbs from a tear-stained near-whisper ("When I was five
Daily Arts Writer and he was six / We rode horses made of sticks / He wore
black and I wore white / He would always win the fight") to
Jack White's love for the thematic has spread to The a harpy's shriek for the chorus. Guttural blasts of rhythm
Raconteurs' tour. That, or somebody has obviously been guitar and cannon-like bass coupled with Patrick Keeler
watching a lot of Tarantino. pounding the hell out of the drum kit punctuated each cry
For their set at The Michigan Theater Saturday night, of "Bang bang!"
The Raconteurs ambled onstage to the sweeping spaghetti White has long been vocal about his love of Son House's
Western romanticism of Luis Bacalov's "The Grande Duel," Southern blues; he notably dedicated The White Stripes'
a piece prominently featured in "Kill Bill," Quentin Taran- White Blood Cells to the legendary Loretta Lynn and sub-
tino's epic platonic love letter to Uma Thurman. sequently produced her 2004 album Van Lear Rose. There's
The Raconteurs's entrance provided proper foreshadow- something about the gritty industrial charm of Detroit rock
ing for their darkly seductive cover of "Bang Bang," a Nancy that melds well with Southern influence. Perhaps it's a shared
Sinatra song that has regained popularity due to its place on musical aesthetic. Adding the pop polish of Benson and grav-
the "Kill Bill" soundtrack. ity provided by fellow Midwesterners Keeler and bassist Jack
While Sinatra's original is sweetly nostalgic, albeit slight- Lawrence allows The Raconteurs to flesh out "Bang Bang"
ly morbid (the chorus does revolve around the refrain "my in a way The White Stripes were approaching with their
baby shot me down"), The Raconteurs' interpretation is roughed up "Jolene."
devastating in its raw, passionate instrumentals and White's With "Jolene," and now this, White is on a roll with cover
vocal histrionics. Brendan Benson's lead guitar hook - a song choices. Let's hope The Raconteurs record and release
mesmerizing pentatonic line - sets the stage for White. He this one as well.
of Ann Arbor