It's never a really good sign when the extras on a DVD are more entertaining than the movie they support. On the unrated version of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby it's a bit of a toss-up. The deleted scenes, fake interviews, multiple improv lines, and gag reel certainly give the movie and its barely there plot a run for its money. Making a satire about NASCAR would seem to be like shooting fish in a barrel. A small barrel.....with a very big gun. Director and co-writer Adam McKay brings out a huge gun, Will Ferrell, to do what most of us do every week: make fun of the millions of people (all of whom live in three southern states) who worship men in fire-proof unitards shilling for almost every consumer product in existence while driving very, very fast without the benefit of door handles that work.
The plot, such as it is, is pretty thin. Ferrell's Ricky Bobby and his teammate Cal Naughton Jr. (the as-usual excellent John C. Reilly) are the dominant NASCAR drivers (with Cal always finishing a close second), bringing Ricky Bobby fame and fortune. He lives a life of conspicuous consumption with his materialistic white-trash wife Carley (Leslie Bibb) and his two obnoxious boys, Walker and Texas Ranger. Ricky Bobby's strangle-hold on Victory Lane is threatened by gay French Formula One driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) who stands for everything that a Dixie-bred NASCAR nut would, in theory, despise.
There are times while watching Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby that you wonder why they even bothered with a plot at all. The main point of the movie is watching improv masters like Ferrell, Reilly, and Cohen make fun of Southerners and gay Frenchman. Gary Cole almost steals the movie as Ricky's absentee father who shows up every ten years or so to impart life's lessons with the help of a cougar. But scenes with Ferrell putting on a blindfold to "feel" the car and then driving directly into the side of a house don't need much plot support, they are just funny. That's what happens with most of the funny scenes and lines, and there are quite a few. They are hilarious in the moment but don't really hold together over the course of two hours. You're left wondering what a ruthless editor, less in awe of Ferrell's formidable talent, would have done to pare this thing down to its best moments. However, you don't think about it too long as Farrell shows up to run around praying to Tom Cruise to put out an imaginary fire that only he can feel.
Since this "Unrated Version" is actually longer, not shorter, than the theatrical version, the movie remains less than it could be. It's not that all the good parts are in the trailer, but all the best parts are in the trailer and the remaining good parts are a bit too scattered. Those good parts, however, are sometimes so good that they almost compensate for the drag in-between. Like so many of Cal Naughton Jr.'s races, the movie doesn't take the checkered flag, but shouldn't be ashamed of the effort. When seeing the phrase "Unrated Version" on any DVD case, most people think of two words: more boobs. In this case, it's not totally clear why this version is unrated. The movie still seems like a PG-13 release. About 13 minutes of footage was added from the theatrical release but, again, none of it jumps out as being typical unrated material.
The disc boasts one commentary and while you might not love it, you have to admit they certainly tried something unique. Director and co-writer Adam McKay and supporting player Ian Roberts do a two hour comedy routine that is only tangentially related to the concurrent events on screen. They don't make any serious comments about the film or the filmmaking process, they simply make outrageous statements and then riff on that thread for five or ten minutes. One main theme is that the movie's budget was actually more than $470 million. So McKay will say things like, "this scene, we shot in Costa Rica, even though it's inside, we flew everyone down to Costa Rica for a week." There is lengthy riff on how the two boys Walker and Texas Ranger are played by animatronics who had to be restrained from sexually molesting the female stars. McKay and Roberts clearly have stand-up comedy backgrounds and are funny guys, but the commentary is too one-note. After the 50th comment about how supposedly they paid Sean Penn $3 million to be an extra in one scene, you hope they'd move onto something else. Like the movie itself. It works in short bursts, but doesn't sustain for the whole movie.
The rest of the extras are an improvement. In addition to a decent selection of deleted and extended scenes, there are a couple of alternate line reading features. The same scene is shown multiple times with actors like Ferrel, Cole, and Baron changing their one-liner each time, sometimes coming out with four or five good takes in addition to the one that was used in the movie. A whole section is devoted to Walker and Texas Ranger who were sometimes fed 10 or 15 variations on their shockingly insulting comments. It's very funny, although I sometimes wonder where these kids' parents were during this whole process.
There is a very good gag reel, that doesn't mix in stupid music, which sometimes ruins the gag reels on other films. Rather you see how hard it is to keep improv going when a co-star is feverishly trying (and failing) to keep from busting up. Another example of great ad-libbing are fake commercials and public service announcements that are shown in the movie. They were shot multiple times with Ferrell and Reilly changing their charity or product of choice. The spots are both quick and funny and certainly could have replaced some of the duller scenes in the movie.
Working almost as a hilarious reality show is an extra that includes interviews with the characters Ricky and Cal, Girard and his husband (played by Andy Richter), and Cal and Carley. Ricky and Cal talk about their love of G.I. Joes and some of the nicknames they had before their current "Shake and Bake" moniker. Baron and Richter are great as they lovingly talk about how they met and had what seems like the most pretentious wedding, gay or straight, in history.
The final set of extras is aimed square at the NASCAR fans that the studio was clearly counting on being the primary audience of this film. There is "bonus race footage," which is about 2 minutes of unused racing footage set to a rock soundtrack. It's like if the DVD for Invincible showed unused football scenes without any context as they played Def Leppard in the background. A short featurette shows Will Ferrell returning to Talladega and generating some publicity for the theatrical release of the movie. There are also some NASCAR commercials that have nothing to do with the movie and are just, well, commercials. In general, this last set of extras doesn't have much appeal to any but the most hard-core NASCAR fans.
The single disc packs a load of extras, although most of them are relatively brief. Still, there are quite a few supplementary laughs and even the hit and miss commentary will have you chuckling. Watch it for the same reason you watch the movie, random laughs that don't give you any kind of cohesive whole but are still worth your time.