August 10, 2006


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Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13)
Will Ferrell satirizes product placement, NASCAR and its fans, rednecks, redneck humor, corporations, the French, America, George W. Bush, Christianity, intellectualism, Powerade, himself, you, me and freedom in the crazy, stupid, clever Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

As the boys on Spinal Tap mused, the line between stupid and clever is a thin one and, like a Bubba drunk on Bud light, Talladega Nights swerves all over that line throughout the movie.

Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) lives his life by the motto "if you're not first, you're last" a nonsensical bit of advice thrown at him by his semi-professional stock car-driving dad, Reese Bobby (Gary Cole), who is also a part-time pot salesman and tattoo artist but a full-time screw up. He offers up the "first, last" wisdom as he speeds away from a 10-year-old Ricky, who he has just seen for the first time in nearly that long. It will be years before Ricky sees him again, which perhaps drives his need to win or spectacularly crash trying to win every car race he's in.

Not that he doesn't love the driving, "I wanna go fast" being sort of the cornerstone of his vocabulary and life plan. And fast he does indeed go, faster normally than most other racers, winning himself regular victories, some sweet endorsement deals and a "smoking hot wife." He mentions wife Carley (Lesley Bibb), his best friend Cal (John C. Reilly), his sons Walker (Houston Tumlin) and Texas Ranger (Grayson Russell), his fabulous wealth and, because of a contractual obligation, PowerAde during his pre-dinner saying of grace. The endorsements which cover nearly every endorseable surface in Ricky Bobby' life is one of the movie' funnier running jokes along with his instance that he prays to an "infant baby Jesus" because the baby version is the Jesus he likes the best.

Threats to Ricky Bobby's own eternal deification appear in the form of a French competitor and a horrible crash that briefly has him off the circuit. The Frenchman seeking to unseat Ricky Bobby as the country' best racer is Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), who is not only French but also gay, a fan of jazz, endorsed by Perrier and, most devastatingly for Ricky, a better driver. His presence pushes Ricky too hard, causing him to crash and, in a nice satire of movies where a sports star must learn humility, Ricky has to fight his way back onto the race track.

Is Talladega Nights grossed out when Jean kisses his husband Gregory (Andy Richter) or is it laughing at the Red State men who are grossed out by dudes kissing or is it laughing with the men grossed out by men kissing who nonetheless are not threatened by it? (That the film' final kiss has everybody laughing for whatever reason could be seen as a sign of collective acceptance or mass denouncement I suppose it all depends on how much social betterment you expect from your goofball summer comedies.)

You could ask this multi-question riddle of just about every element of the movie. Is it laughing at Applebee' for pretending to be a neighborhood, upscale restaurant or at us for recognizing its chainness and eating there anyway or is everybody just laughing all the way to the bank? My guess would be the last one. The movie is 40 percent funny and about 70 percent the smartest snarky Super Bowl commercial ever. For every bit of laughing at/laughing with there is a third we're-all-laughing-so-who-cares vibe that flows throughout the movie and helps it ride out even the silly, bumpy emotional stuff toward the end.

Ferrell is not necessarily brilliant here but he is extremely clever, turning in a performance that mixes a riff on his George W. with a softer version of his Anchorman character Ron Burgundy. He surrounds himself with equally enjoyable performances by Reilly (who might win this year' Paul Giamatti Award for unsung character actor who finally gets his due), Bibb, Cohen, Greg Germann (as the Nascar team' owner) and Amy Adams (as Ricky Bobby' assistant). And Talladega Nights is not brilliant but, like a cubic zirconia, it sure can sparkle. B-

Amy Diaz

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