Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, 2004

In 1970s San Diego, Channel 4 News is staffed by buffoons.

Talladega Nights
Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, 2006

Race car driver Ricky Bobby tries to get the eye of the tiger back after a wreck.

Evaluation and commentary
After being disappointed by Borat I decided to look into some other popular comedies to see whether they might be any better. I really liked Will Ferrell's Bush parodies for ACT and TBS, but Anchorman is just dumb. I can see why it's supposed to be funny — there are people acting like buffoons, there are wacky non-sequiturs, there is a lot of shouting, and I guess some people like that sort of thing. I was so unamused that I turned it off after about half an hour.

I therefore had very low expectations starting up Talladega Nights, but I figured that as long as I had it I might as well give it a try. Much to my surprise, it is much better! Yes, it's uneven, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the villain is really just shockingly unfunny — how did this guy become a critical darling? he's this generation's Adam Sandler! — but there are some genuinely funny moments here. It helps a lot that Ferrell is basically playing his version of George W. Bush in all his obtuse red-state triumphalism. It helps even more that the script taps other veins of humor besides zany buffoonery. After an abysmal first ten minutes, things suddenly pick up when, in the middle of saying grace, Ricky Bobby is interrupted by his wife, who points out, "Hey, um, y'know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up... you don't always have to call him 'Baby'... it's a bit odd an' off-puttin' to pray to a baby" and after a brief argument ("I like the Christmas Jesus best!") Bobby resumes, "Dear eight-pound, six-ounce, newborn infant Jesus... don't even know a word yet..." Now that's funny! It works on so many levels: it draws attention to the fact that Bobby has been referring to "lord baby Jesus" and "tiny infant Jesus," which Ferrell had been deftly underplaying; the way actress Leslie Bibb delivers the "Jesus did grow up" line is funny, with its undercurrent of "I should not provoke the man-boy but I have reached my breaking point"; it mocks the subculture that does in fact infantilize its savior-deity; Bobby's response is hilariously passive-aggressive. There are even funnier moments later on in the film. Again, it's uneven, but all in all I'd recommend it.

So now I dunno. Maybe I gave up on Anchorman too soon. I mean, the first half hour was terrible, but maybe it would have gotten better, and at least it didn't have Sacha Baron Cohen in it.

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