Will Ferrell stars in and co-wrote the film Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, which opens today.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby

Stars: Will Ferrell, Sacha Baron Cohen

Director: Adam McKay

Rating: PG

** (out of five)

Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby casts Will Ferrell as the greatest American NASCAR hero that ever lived — a down-home, Southern idiot named Ricky Bobby, who likes to go fast and, you know, do stuff.

The movie never gets around to figuring out what that kind of stuff is, but that’s not its biggest problem. The biggest problem about Talladega Nights — which Ferrell co-wrote with his Anchorman director and frequent writing partner, Adam McKay — is that Talladega Nights is a movie that’s completely out of control.

Shots don’t match. Gags are left hanging. Characters appear and disappear. And worst of all, racing sequences are virtually incomprehensible. I mean, I thought Anchorman was enjoyably sloppy, but it was still enjoyable; in this one, Ferrell and McKay don’t seem to have the slightest idea where they’re going in a given scene, let alone in the overall narrative.

Not that this movie is terribly demanding or anything. It’s your basic riches-to-rags-to-riches again, with Ferrell suffering a humiliating loss — sort of — only to build himself up and return to face his nemesis, Jean Girard, a French racing star played by the brilliant British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as though he’d stepped straight out of the a French New Wave movie, and tried to do his own dubbing.

Ferrell might be on the Talladega Nights poster, but it’s Cohen who owns the movie — he steals every scene simply by staying in character and reacting to Ferrell, rather than waiting for the big lug to come up with another of his self-consciously wacky improvs, the way the rest of the cast does.

This isn’t to say that Ferrell himself is bad in Talladega Nights ... just maybe a little overstretched. And Cohen’s so much fun to watch that I found myself wishing this was his movie, with Ferrell relegated to the occasional walk-on. But zat was not to bee.