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Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
We’ll start with a quick but funny bit. Reilly plays Cal Naughton Jr., a stock car racer who drives on a team with the current champion and superstar, Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell). He’s not interested in being the best, only second and is wholly devoted to his best friend through thick and thin. Bobby faces a new challenge though in open-wheel racer Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) who confidently claims he will be the new champion at any cost. Bobby, feeling the pressure and hopelessly competitive, pushes himself on the track, taking risks that exceed his skills. In one race, he crashes and flips his car in a violent accident that demolishes his vehicle. He’s okay though, but leaps from the wreckage believing he’s on fire, running about, flailing his arms in his underwear while begging Tom Cruise to use his witchcraft to get the fire off him. Of course, Bobby is not on fire. It’s a delusion. But don’t tell that to Cal Naughton Jr. He runs full sprint from pit to the track screaming, “Please don’t let the invisible fire burn my friend!” It’s the funniest line in the movie. Well, one of them.
Reilly Plays Amos Hart, the lovable but dimwitted husband to Roxie (Renée Zellweger) who longs to be a vaudeville star. When she murders Fred Casely (Dominic West), a lover she took who told her he could get her fame but only used her for her body, she claims he is a burglar and has Amos take the blame. After that backfires, she is sent to death row and meets her idol, a singer named Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who herself is in jail for a double murder, the two have the same slimy lawyer, a smarmy man named Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who uses the press to glean sympathy for his clients. He reinvents Roxie’s story to be a virtuous woman abandoned by Amos who acted out of love when she supposedly rejected her lover to stay with her husband. Meanwhile, the press ignores Amos. The ploy works and she becomes a media darling. To add further fire to the blaze, she also claims she is pregnant and Flynn convinces Amos that he couldn’t be the father and should divorce her. As Chicago is a musical, all of these moments are interplayed with singing, and as Amos learns of his downfall, it intercuts to a song called Mr. Cellophane, a touching tune Reilly sings on the proverbial stage, telling how he’s a man no one can see. It’s a bittersweet moment and helped earn Reilly an Oscar nomination.
Reilly plays police officer Jim Kurring, an average cop called to a disturbance after neighbors complain of loud music. In the apartment, he encounters a distraught woman named Claudia (Melora Walters). She’s had an argument with her estranged father, the host of a popular television children’s trivia game show who has since left. She got angry and started blasting music, but what Jim doesn’t know is that she’s also snorted a large amount of cocaine. Attracted to the disheveled but pretty blonde, he finds ways to prolong his visit and eventually asks her out. She agrees and later that night, they meet for dinner. She is highly emotional and the two decide to be upfront and honest, so she tells him how she thinks he is a good man and a good cop and worries he will discover the bad things about her and hate her forever. He listens patiently, feeling strongly drawn to her, and then confesses his own ineptitude. He’s not a good cop, He’s lost his sidearm during a chase earlier in the day and is now the station laughing stock. He’s divorced and hasn’t been on a date in three years and worries that she will discover these things and hate him as well. The two realize how similar they are and in a passionate moment, spontaneously kiss over the table. It’s a powerful scene in a movie crowded with them, but Reilly stands out with a deeply personal and affecting performance, with this moment the highlight.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Reilly plays Ralph in this animated film about a video game villain who wants more in life than to always be the bad guy. Ralph leaves his role in the game and travels through the cables to the hub, here all video games characters go when their games at the arcade are shut down for the night. Desiring to be a hero, he heads to a first-person shooter, but it’s far too much and he eventually ends up in Sugar Rush, a kart-racing game geared for little girls. There, he befriends Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a racer who is actually a glitchy character who is unliked by the other racers and is forbidden to enter the races by order of the world’s ruler, King Candy (Alan Tudyk). Ralph at first helps Vanellope in her dream to win, building her a candy car, but when he has a talk with King Candy, who tells him that the real reason she can’t race is because players will think the game is broken and therefore will no longer play, Ralph decides he must stop Vanellope in order to save her. A sweet, inspiring story, this unexpectedly dramatic moment packs a big emotional punch as Ralph, a bad guy by design but a good man at heart, makes a difficult choice. While it might “only” be a voice performance, it is nonetheless, one of Reilly’s greatest contributions, making Ralph one of the great animated characters of all time.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Reilly plays the titular Dewey Cox, a singer for the ages who attempts to redefine himself as each new musical trend becomes popular. It’s told as a bio-pic, slightly parodying critical successes like the 2004’s Walk the Line. It pokes fun at a number of song styles and genres and similar to Forrest Gump, has him interact with a long list of influential and legendary artists from the early days of Rock to modern Rap. It’s absurdist approach and off-center comedy falls inline with producer Judd Apatow‘s best work and keeps this very funny movie zipping along with hilarious results. But it also is surprisingly deep and Reilly brings an authenticity to the role that somehow, despite the silliness, keeps this feeling genuine. His great singing talents shine, but Reilly makes Cox a thoroughly honest character that is easy to stand behind. There’s never a moment when Reilly himself brings Cox into the weirdness surrounding him, as if the world that he lives in is just a place of chaos and he a journeyman traveling through it. We empathize so that when the ending comes, the emotional pay-off feels true and earned. Great movie and Reilly’s best work.
What are your favorite John C. Reilly moments?