While not generally perceived as such, Talledaga Nights is a fictitious bio pic much in the same way Dewey Cox is. The difference being that this Ferrell vehicle isn’t willfully bad. And while the John C. Riley connection should serve to cement the basic similarities between the two features, the execution of Talladega Nights makes it a much more enjoyable flick. The film still follows Ferrell’s character from early childhood through his life, focusing more on the ‘now’ than that other film. Besides that slight variation on the arc of these productions, the supporting cast here makes a much more important contribution to the overall product
Along with Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, here making a pre-Borat appearance, on occasion comes off as sensational as his on screen character. Functioning as Ricky Bobby’s foil, Cohen’s character, Jean Girard, is an openly gay European racer set on destroying Bobby’s career – well, kinda. But the moments between Girard and the film’s protagonist are easily some of the most memorable from the entire feature. The improvisational acumen of much of the cast is tested at one point or another, but as Ferrell and Cohen go at it in scene after scene, even occasionally stumbling over words, the resultant comedy erases any brief actorly transgression.
The actual arc of the film is split up into several difficulties that Ferrell’s character must work through. From not even being a racer, to being completely incapable of driving and needing to over come some mental impediment, the story is further complicated as Bobby’s wife leaves him for Reilly’s character in a blatant money grubbing move. It’s a pretty traditional way in which films create tension. But the subsequent interactions between Reilly’s character and Ferrell’s make the familiar plot twist a step away from pee-in-your-pants funny. As the two interact, Ferrell’s character endlessly forgets his friend’s betrayal, makes some future plans with his buddy only to recall the problematic situation. Any back and forth between the two during this stage of the film ends in a laugh – and one that seems to be earned at will.
And it’s these interactions between Ferrell and other actors in Talladega Nights that makes the film work. One could credit the writing or directing, but in the end there isn’t really too much doubt that the entirety of this feature would have been drastically different if any of the roles were bestowed on different player’s shoulders.