2006-08-18 / Columnists


'Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby' - Very Fast And Very Funny
By Robert Snyder

During one climatic moment in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," a spectacular two-NASCAR crash seems to go on endlessly, the bashed-up autos tumbling over and over until the stadium announcers decide to cut to a commercial. When the TV ad ends, the cars are still doing cartwheels.

The incredible stunt is one of many in the movie. It led its star to remark, "The racing sequences in 'Talladega Nights,' are far too good for a Will Ferrell comedy." The actor/exec producer/writer sounds almost embarrassed.

However, he needn't be. "Talladega Nights" is a big summer hit, jumping to number one and earning more than $47 million on its opening weekend. This is despite condemnation from certain evangelicals, who see no humor in the Ferrell's mocking mealtime graces to "Baby Jesus" throughout the film.

Playing red neck race car driver Ricky Bobby, Ferrell does dead-on parody of dumbbell Americans, responsible for NASCAR's phenomenal popularity. These are also the same audience members who are making Ferrell major money, the ones disappointed with the limp "Dukes of Hazzard" movie.

Directed by co-writer Adam McKay ("Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"), "Nights" begins with Ricky' Bobby's birth, naturally at top speed in the back of a car. He grows up to be part of a pit crew for an unenthusiastic driver (McKay), known for taking lunch breaks in the middle of a race. Ricky replaces him. With second banana Cal Naughton, Jr., (John C. Reilly) doing a crazy backup car strategy, Ricky Bobby becomes a NASCAR winning sensation.

All goes well until Frenchman Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Ali G) arrives on the scene and hurls down the gauntlet. In fact, Girard is so good that he can beat Ricky while reading Camus.

The French threat (and he's gay to boot) throws Ricky into an hysterical state. He runs around the stadium near-naked convinced that he is on fire, screaming for Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey to save him. He winds up in a hospital, certain that he's paralyzed. It takes chief crew Lucius Washington (Michael Clarke Duncan) and Cal to snap him out of it... with the help of a self-inflicted knife wound.

Still, Ricky continues his descent until he's delivering pizzas on a bicycle. His absentee father, Reese Bobby (Gary Cole), finally comes to the rescue, teaching him to "face the fear" both by driving blindfolded and with a real cougar in the car.

"Talladega Nights" is must for Will Ferrell fans, stunt-driving enthusiasts and anyone looking to laugh at NASCAR stupidity, which is probably most of America and maybe the world.

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