Nascar is one of those things that I have really tried to like. The massive spike in popularity over the past few years has left me completely confused and wondering if I’m missing something. But every time I try and watch a race I continue to find myself wanting to do something else – like alphabetize my DVD’s or fire up a vacuum cleaner. I, like many fans on the fence, really only perk up when there is a crash and subsequent fireball. Let’s face it: today’s technology makes a driver’s survival in a crash almost a foregone conclusion. I guess I don’t feel quite as morbid about it.
It was with that same morbid fascination that I entered the screening of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Mocking Nascar is effortless, but it seemed like Will Ferrell and company were either going to play it safe and go for the painfully obvious and try too hard and fail. The resulting effort is a little bit of both. The film takes the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach and assaults the audience with a continuous barrage of sight gags, hick humor, and Ferrell in his tighty-whiteys. If this already sounds like your bag, I hereby give you permission to bypass the rest of this review.
Ferrell is Ricky Bobby, the top driver of Nascar. He got his start as a member of a pit crew, but was given the opportunity to get behind the wheel when the team’s driver decided to break for lunch during a race (literally). Nascar has provided Ricky with a trophy wife (Leslie Bibb) and two sons, Walker and Texas Ranger (ho, ho). His life-long friend, Cal (Reilly), is also a driver and often provides him the perfect draft to slingshot to victory. Things are running smooth as ever until a new driver, a Frenchman named Jean Girard (Cohen), enters the circuit. He is so good that he can read a novel while racing, and Ricky soon finds himself being put to the test amongst family problems and a few brutal injuries.
It’s getting easier and easier to label Will Ferrell a one trick pony, but the guy still brings a great deal of energy to nearly all of his projects. As Bobby he rightfully exploits the Nascar culture as a bunch of dimwits who are making millions for having questionable talent. A prolonged dinner sequence, in which Ricky says grace, is near brilliance as he explains why he prefers the “baby Jesus” over Jesus at any other age. But it seems like whenever comedic old is struck the screenplay lashes back with moments that don’t work, making for a somewhat uneven viewing experience. Ferrell running butt-naked down the street in Old School was funny, but Ferrell prancing around a race track in his underwear whilst thinking he is on fire feels tired at this point.
The supporting cast, made up of stellar actors in John C. Reilly, Amy Adams, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Gary Cole, is superb. In fact, it is Cole who steals every scene that he is in as Ricky’s deadbeat dad. He is given the best lines and has impeccable comic timing. Everyone else is forced to play second fiddle to Ferrell, which is a shame considering the talent.
Talladega Nights already has a twofold built-in audience: Nascar fans and Will Ferrell fans (or both). As uneven as the film is at times it is still one of the best comedies of the summer; and in a summer this woeful, that earns a recommendation.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence.
Theatrical Release: August 4, 2006
Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Will Ferrell & Adam McKay.
Cast: Will Ferrell, Sacha Baron Cohen, John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Amy Adams, Gary Cole