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Talladega Nights Takes the Lowbrow Course

  • Stephen McGarvey Editor-in-Chief, Crosswalk.com
  • 2006 8 Aug
  • COMMENTS
<i>Talladega Nights</i> Takes the Lowbrow Course

Release Date:  August 4, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence)
Genre:  Comedy
Runtime:  105 min.
Director:  Adam McKay
Actors:  Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Gary Cole, Jane Lynch, Michael Clarke Duncan, Greg Germann, Sacha Baron Cohen, Leslie Bibb, Amy Adams, Molly Shannon, Andy Richter

When you make a comedy that mocks a certain type of people, it makes a difference if you're mocking the people in question, or stereotypes of those people. When you watch the trailer of "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," you get the feeling that the movie will make fun of Southerners and NASCAR fans.  Yet the movie only really mocks their silly stereotypes.

Rather than being mean-spirited "Talladega" is ultimately kind to its simpleminded characters, and all demographics represented (except for perhaps the French). Unfortunately, the movie – like most of Will Ferrell’s films – has decided that you can’t be funny without also being over-the-top vulgar. It’s too bad since "Talladega Nights" could have been one of this year’s funniest. 

We first meet Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) as his mother (Jane Lynch) is giving birth to him in the back of a car traveling at 107 miles per hour. Speed-demon dad Reese (Gary Cole) is so enthralled with his fast car he zooms right by the hospital. We are lead to believe that “going fast” is Ricky’s destiny from birth.

Dad turns out to be a deadbeat, taking off soon after Ricky is born. Except for showing up at a school career day when Ricky is ten-years-old, imparted wisdom about going fast will have to wait.  Reese leaves Ricky with the mantra “if you're not first, then you're last.”

Years later, Ricky and his best friend Cal (John C. Reilly) are working together on the same underachieving NASCAR pit crew. When their lazy driver decides he has better things to do than race, Ricky volunteers. He wins the race and quickly becomes a NASCAR superstar. Soon Cal is driving too, helping Ricky speed to victory in race after race.

Now at the top of his game, Ricky has an ego the size of his enormous Mc-mansion. Cal asks Ricky if he will help him win a few races, but Ricky cannot abide not being the best. Soon gay Frenchman Jean Girard (played brilliantly by Sacha Baron Cohen) arrives on the circuit, gunning for Ricky’s title.  When a crash puts Ricky in a kind of psychosis that will no longer allow him to “go fast,” he loses everything:  his wife, his house, his career, his clueless best friend Cal.

The movie is at its funniest when Ricky is down and out and forced to lived with his mother, delivering pizzas on a bicycle. Reese shows up once more to try and teach Ricky how to get back in the racing groove.  In a spoof on almost every karate-movie-with-a-training-sequence ever made, Reese makes Ricky do some of the most harebrained things to get back on track. And honestly, is Mr. Miyagi making his protégée Daniel wax cars to learn karate any more believable than Reese telling Bobby he needs to drive blindfolded so he can “feel the road"?

Despite the mostly predictable plot, earnest acting sells lowbrow scenes. Ferrell, as over the top as ever, throws all his energy into making Ricky Bobby both endearing and insane. And not since Peter Sellers’ "Pink Panther" role have we seen the portrayal of a stereotypical Frenchman as funny as Cohen’s Jean Girard.

Unfortunately no real lessons are learned here.  Ricky gets his head back in the right place by magically deciding he was born to race. The one bit of advice his father gave to him as a child, the idea that he has based his whole life on, Reese confirms, “is just something I said when I was high.” Ricky reconciles with Cal and learns not to hate Girard.

“Ricky Bobby isn’t a thinker,” his assistant turned girlfriend (Amy Adams) yells at him at a crucial moment. “Ricky Bobby is a driver!” Which in a sense sums up the entire movie. If you like Will Ferrell’s past movies, and can ignore the crude humor, you will probably enjoy "Talladega Nights."  Nothing much to think about here, but the ride – at times – can make you laugh. 

AUDIENCE:  Older teens and adults

CAUTIONS:

  • Language:  A good deal of profanity. Several vulgar sexual comments and jokes. The Lord’s name is taken in vain a few times. Ricky’s children are especially foulmouthed to adults in several scenes.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Characters are several times show in bars and drinking. Ricky’s father grows marijuana. A malt liquor brand is prominently displayed as one racing team’s sponsor.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A groupie lifts up her shirt and flashes her chest at Ricky (nothing is shown); he then mutters under his breath, “Please God be eighteen.” In the following scene he autographs a female fan’s cleavage. In two scenes Ricky, thinking he is on fire, strips down to his underwear and runs across the race track. Cal confesses to Ricky, including a graphic description, that he once posed in Playgirl. Two homosexual kissing scenes are played for gross-out laughs. Both Ricky’s parents tell him about the night he was conceived.
  • Violence:  Lots of spectacular race track car crashes. Ricky accidentally hits a policeman with his car. A couple of fist fights. Jean Girard rather graphically breaks Ricky’s arm. Ricky sticks a knife in his own leg to prove that he has no feeling in his legs. It turns out that he does have feeling in his legs after all, and we are then subject to a cringe-worthy sequence as his friends attempt to remove the knife.
  • Religion:  At the dinner table Ricky prays to “Lord Baby Jesus.” An argument ensues as to which is the “right” Jesus to pray to. Ricky says he prefers to think of Jesus as a baby. When Ricky thinks he’s on fire he screams “help me” prayers to several “deities” including Baby Jesus, Allah, “Jewish God,” Tom Cruise and Oprah.