Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Dir. Adam McKay. 2006. PG-13. 105mins. Will Ferrell, John C.
Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Clarke Duncan.
Talladega Nights begins with a quotation, falsely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, that crassly describes America’s need for speed. Silly as it is, that idea is indeed the essence of this Ferrell vehicle (pun fully intended). Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby is a simple man with simple needs, and his rise, fall, and rise again to the top of the NASCAR ranks offer a bizarre, hilarious and sometimes spot-on parody of the American Dream. No joke.
Anchorman director McKay reunites with Ferrell for this broad comedy, which skewers NASCAR-cum-red-state culture through familiar story lines and fantastic characters: A son (Ferrell) chases the love of his daddy (Gary Cole), best friends (Ferrell and Reilly) balance their need for companionship with personal victory, and a gay French race-car driver (Baron Cohen) is mocked and admired simultaneously. On this basic framework, the screenplay (written by Ferrell and McKay) offers up plenty of silly lines, goofy supporting players and a fit of fake paralysis.
In two films together, Ferrell and McKay have created pseudorealities that complement Ferrell’s comedic gifts, coupled with redemptive stories featuring idiots savants. Ferrell is without peer in creating fearless, imaginatively outrageous comedy, and Talladega Nights revels in testing the boundaries of a previously familiar world. Ultimately, Ferrell works hard for our many laughs, a spirit that even Roosevelt would have appreciated.—Andy Marchesseault