Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) — NASCAR dreams

“If you ain’t first, you’re last!”

Drew’s rating: For a lifetime supply of Fig Newtons? I’d TOTALLY drive with a sticker covering my windshield.

Drew’s review: I am not a Southerner, by the grace of God or otherwise. My parents are from Michigan, and I was born and raised in New Jersey (state motto: “Only the strong survive”). I throw in this preface to explain how I know I’ll never truly understand NASCAR. Oh, I like parts of it… I fully support any activity that involves large groups of people spending time outdoors, getting drunk and periodically lifting their shirts. (Ladies only, PoolMan. Seriously, dude, not cool.) But like most Northerners, I prefer such gatherings to involve grown men kicking or throwing a ball around, rather than cars racing around an oval stretch of road. And yes, I’m a big fan of driving fast and freaking out people with slower reflexes, but I have Jersey highways for that.

So I’m not a diehard NASCAR fan. I say that to emphasize that there’s no preconceived bias on my part when I report that this movie is hilarious. Honestly, I may even prefer it to Anchorman… and I’m a man who enjoys his Anchorman. That seems to be an unpopular opinion among the masses, but so be it.

Talladega Nights has plenty of laughs, but also a tighter structure and an actual plot, something I usually like to see in a movie (Dazed and Confused, I’m looking at you). True, John C. Reilly and Sacha Baron Cohen aren’t quite as zany as Steve Carell and Ben Stiller, but the presence of Gary Cole (Office Space) as Ricky’s father more than makes up for it. “I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come to the racetrack on Saturday, son, mkay? Great.”

If you need more of a summary than “Will Ferrell in a race car,” here goes: Ricky Bobby, Southern hick extraordinaire, has wanted to drive fast since the day he was born. A pit crew worker, his chance finally arrives in the form of an absent driver and a vacant car. Quickly catapulting his way to the top of the NASCAR circuit, Ricky gains the wife, kids, and white trash lifestyle he’s always dreamed of… but when a jealous owner and very, very gay French driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) team up to challenge his dominance, he soon finds himself friendless, penniless, and living with his mother. Can Ricky stage a comeback to squash the frog and get back on top, or will snack vendors be stuck serving wine and cheese forevermore?

I mentioned stupid humor before, but let’s be clear: This is not an Adam Sandler movie, where the protagonist acts bizarre and all the other characters play straight (wo)man. No, this is a Will Ferrell flick, which means that EVERYONE — hero, villain, mentor, love interest, etc. — says and does completely inane, nonsensical things pretty much all the time. There’s no Alice in this Wonderland; it’s just a bunch of lunatics running wild. And as long as you enjoy that kind of humor, it’s hilarious… I guarantee at least half the dialogue was ad-libbed on the spot by Ferrell and his co-stars. But those who need at least one sane character to relate to will be lost, so proceed at your own risk.

What I like about Nights is that it’s not afraid to make fun of people’s cultures, but that it also shares the satire evenly. I’m immensely proud to be an American, but there are things I dislike about our society, and the film does a great job of skewering the willful ignorance, monstrous excess, and xenophobia that far too many Americans engage in. (With apologies to the South, I have no trouble believing that Applebee’s is considered a fancy dinner out in parts of this country.)

But it’s not a case of us being the lone scapegoat, as main villain Girard exemplifies at least as many stereotypes and odd behaviors of the French culture. It’s a nice reminder: America does have problems and takes a lot of global abuse because we’re always in the spotlight, more so now than ever… but every country has their eccentricities and stupid behavior. NASCAR just happens to be one of ours. (Hey, it could be curling.)

In the end, Nights can never be considered truly cult because Will Ferrell is all famous and stuff these days; but it’s one of those films where you know if it’d been made during his SNL days, it would already be a cult classic. Nonetheless, it’s a funny movie that won’t make you think too hard if you don’t want to, but actually has a little bit of subtle humor for those who look. Like I said, you know what to expect with this one… but if you like that kind of humor but haven’t seen it yet, by all means, put the pedal to the metal and check it out.

Didja notice?

  • Ricky’s dinner table contains more product placements then I think I’ve ever seen in one scene of a movie before.
  • Talladega Nights drinking game: for every individual brand-name product you see, take a drink. You’ll be comatose within the hour.
  • While any kids I might ever have will be respectful, I do hope to one day hear one tell his grandfather he’s going to come at him like a spider monkey, ‘cuz that’s just awesome.
  • I never would have recognized Girard as Ali G; he looks totally different.

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