Yesterday, probably because of the shift in the weather, I had a fairly harsh headache all day. By the time I left work at 4:45, I'd already taken six aspirins since waking up, and they just really weren't helping much.

I arrived at the theater at 5:02 for a 5:10 movie. The only ticket-seller on duty was new, and incompetent, and by the time he had served the two people in front of me, it was 5:07. I asked for one ticket, he sold me two, and then asked me to wait for a manager to come and refund the cost to my credit card. I waited for several minutes, worried that I'd miss the beginning, and so I chose to eat the extra $6.25. I arrived in the theater just in time to see the final trailer, for the execrable and even immoral-looking Jackass 2.

The reason I say all this is to explain that Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby had a lot to overcome, and the fact that it didn't shouldn't reflect on the movie: indeed, you can read this review, if you wish, as an exploration of how the circumstances under which one sees a film can affect his appreciation of it.

It's a deeply unfunny movie, though.

There's little point in recapping the plot, because there is little plot: the first half is a series of sketches and the second half is a thin redemption story that serves mostly as a line to hang sketches on. Most of the sketches are not amusing in the slightest.

And it's not just that they're not funny because I don't like that kind of humor. For much of the film, especially in the first half, it's more that I recognised, from the setup-setup-punchline model, and the way that the actors held themselves, that these were supposed to be "gags"; but I can't for the life of me figure out what was supposed to be funny about them. And the audience I saw the film with largely agreed: out of something like 25 people, only one person laughed consistently (she was sitting directly behind me, and my headache just loved that). Even the two douchebags sitting ahead of me who were talking about how great Jackass 2 was going to be couldn't work up much enthusiasm.

Will Ferrell, whom I have never liked in anything, plays the titular NASCAR hero. To his credit, he does not play Ricky Bobby as a cartoon parody of the South, but really just as a variant on his SNL George W. Bush. I would be lying entirely if I said that I never laughed once at any of his antics, but they were few and rare laughs. Still, that's more than I got out of John C. Reilly as Ricky Bobby's sidekick, Cal Naughton, Jr. Reilly is a great actor and will I'm sure be great in things again, but there's no conceivable way to describe his performance other than "embarrassing." Not one of his jokes works, from the bizarre "shake and bake" catchphrase he shares with Ricky Bobby, nor the hellish nightmare scene where he confesses his history of posing for Playgirl: and if I say anything that I hope will keep you from seeing Talladega Nights, it will be this, that John C. Reilly has not one, but two jokes that involve him discussing the time that he pulled his butt cheeks apart.

Other fine actors who waste themselves here are Michael Clarke Duncan as the head of Ricky Bobby's pit crew, and the deeply under-utilised Jane Lynch as Ricky's mother. In fact, of the mostly over-qualified lead cast, only one actor wasn't shameful, and that was Sacha Baron Cohen, whose every utterance I found funny (almost exclusively because of his Peter Sellers-esque French accent), and who delivered the best line of the film: "And now the matador shall dance with the blind shoemaker." Okay, so "best" is relative, and it needs the accent. Anyway, it speaks volumes against a film when its best aspect serves mostly to make me anxious for a different film.

Deconstructing bad comedy is hard to do: having spent 500 words panning the film, I only now realise that I didn't say anything about it. Well, that's as it should be. This is a flat, boring movie, with hardly any laughs and a ridiculous 110 minute run time. I certainly won't say I hated it, but I'm not at all happy that I paid to see it twice.

Lastly, a warning about ad campaigns: I'm actually quite impressed by how appealing the trailers could make such an anemic film, and it's not, as it often is, because only the best moments in the film appear in the trailer. No, it's because fully two-thirds of the trailer is either lines (or complete scenes!) that were cut from the film or alternate shots or brief moments recut so that reaction lines are funnier. Indeed, my favorite line from the trailer, the one that got me to thinking, "hm...perhaps I shall see this," was cut from the movie. Doubtlessly this is because there is to be a director's cut DVD, and then the ridiculous 110 minutes will bloat up to an indefensible 125 minutes.