Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: August 4, 2006
Directed by: Adam McKay
Genre: Comedy / Action / Sports
Will Ferrell plays a fictional NASCAR legend in this goofy and energetic sports comedy, more formally titled “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.” The film is both a stinging parody of and an affectionate tribute to the world of professional auto racing. Told in the very familiar style of the sports biopic, “Talladega Nights” follows the ups and downs of its hero from childhood through the greatest challenges of his career.
Like most Will Ferrell protagonists, Ricky Bobby is an awkward but strangely lovable overgrown man child, dripping with simple-minded enthusiasm while unaware of his own failings. As Ricky Bobby, Ferrell combines the best of his parodies of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton from his “Saturday Night Live” days and takes the character to a whole new level of dimwitted self-absorption. John C. Reilly plays Ricky’s lifelong best friend, Cal Naughton Jr., who is cut from the same cloth. Together, they work as a team, self-dubbed “Shake and Bake,” with Cal acting to block other drivers to give Ricky an easy win. They dominate any race they enter and quickly rack up an impressive win record.
Everything changes when a French Formula One driver named Jean Girard arrives on the scene, played with hilarious exaggeration by Sasha Baron Cohen. He threatens to oust Ricky Bobby as the top driver on the NASCAR circuit. His usurpation of the position as alpha dog sends Ricky Bobby into a downward spiral, forcing the hero to re-evaluate his life with a new sense of humility.
The film finds its comedy gold in its many rich but off-kilter characters. Ricky and Cal are the epitome of the stereotypical good ol’ boys with too much money and too little common sense. Many hilarious scenes showcase the ridiculous personalities of these characters. When Ricky gets stabbed in the leg, Cal shouts at him to walk it off. When Jean Girard boasts of France inventing democracy, they counter that America invented the missionary position. After a crash, Ricky hallucinates that he is on fire. Cal believes him and tries to put out the imaginary flames. Ricky is quite easily amused and even names his two boys “Walker” and “Texas Ranger.”
Many of the secondary characters benefit from pitch-perfect performances. Gary Cole puts in a hilarious turn as Reese, Ricky’s no-good drifter father, who helps Ricky regain his nerve by forcing him to drive with a live cougar in the car. Molly Shannon shows up as the team owner’s drunk and raunchy wife. The two boys, Walker and Texas Ranger, are foul-mouthed and rude in a way that puts the “South Park” kids to shame, especially when they keep trying to off their grandmother for disciplining them.
The film’s most potent skewering is aimed at the NASCAR sponsorship culture. Everything in Ricky Bobby’s world revolves around sponsorships and the money they bring in. Ricky runs out of room for ads on his car, so he slaps a Fig Newtons sticker across his windshield and is unmindful of the way it obscures his vision while driving hundreds of miles an hour. A deal with Powerade forces him to plug the product every time he prays, even when saying grace before dinner with his family. Ricky is willing to plug anything and everything for the right amount of cash, including tampons, Chinese candy and hating Tijuana. The most surprising thing about this is the number of real companies that have allowed themselves to be parodied this way. One does not usually think of corporations as having a sense of humor.
“Talladega Nights” tells basically the same story as “Days of Thunder” but succeeds in being far more entertaining than the earlier effort by not taking itself seriously at all. Despite its very flawed heroes, it shows the sport of racing in a consistently positive light. The cinematography is exceptionally well-done for a comedy. Its racing sequences are also top-notch and well staged and are every bit as exciting as any real NASCAR race.
“Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby” for the most part hits perfect notes of comedy all the way through. It keeps its focus on its many funny yet compelling characters, boasting many humorous details to fill in the slow spots where a plot is necessary. A viewer does not have to be a fan of NASCAR racing to enjoy this film, but those who are fans of racing are sure to find many things to snicker about in this top-notch comedy about their favorite sport.
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