On rare occasions, films can be entertaining and at the same time have sociological implications that add weight. For instance, I viewed Michael Moore’s controversial film “Bowling for Columbine” – a movie about Americans and their guns – in a theater full of Canadians in Toronto. I also had an opportunity to see Stephen Spielberg’s masterwork “Munich” in a screening which was predominately comprised of Jewish Americans and witnessed a number of people walk out in the first half-hour. In both cases, the audience had a significant impact on the viewing experience. This is also the case with “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” where one overwhelmed spectator – not once but twice – screamed aloud…”Go Ricky Bobby!” It may have been a joke, but I’m fairly certain it was just a NASCAR fan.
“Talladega Nights” pulls no punches in making fun of the phenomenon of NASCAR and racing culture. The obvious irony being that a great deal of the opening weekend audience will likely be the very people it so successfully lampoons. It will be interesting to see if there is any backlash to the portrayal of racing fans and participants as being witless, bigoted and blindly obsessed.
Costars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are hysterical as childhood best friends Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton Jr. When a driver mishap puts pit-crewman Ricky behind the wheel and all their dreams come true, both Ricky and Cal become top drivers on the NASCAR circuit. Jealously from the son of Ricky’s team sponsor brings French driver Jean Girard played marvelously by Sacha Baron Cohen (“Da Ali G Show”) to the United States to bring Ricky down. Throw in some stuff with Ricky’s absent father (Gary Cole) and Ricky’s mother’s quest to tame his two unruly children and that’s as thick as the plot gets.
Co-written by Ferrell, “Talladega Nights” is just what it appears to be. To its credit, it appeals to the audience to laugh at its characters rather than feel something for them disingenuinely as some recent blockbusters like “Wedding Crashers” and “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” have so shamelessly done. The dialogue and scenes seem largely improvised and a blooper reel at the film’s end is as amusing as the best parts of the feature – I would have been happy if they cut 10 minutes out of the movie and given us more bloopers. Reilly and Ferrell make a fantastic duo whose chemistry could easily be parlayed into a whole ‘nother series of comedy gems with a similar tone.
For my money, “Talledega Nights” has more bang for your buck than any of this summer’s previous comedies including “Nacho Libre.” “TN: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” is full of memorable characters, quotable lines and rapid-fire gags, but free of unnecessary racing reality and insufferable sentimentality which would have muddled the humor. So, if the enthusiasm of racing fans comes out in a few shouts of support and strangely-placed clapping and not in other, less healthy ways – for instance sneaking in a six-pack of Keystone Light and throwing the empties at the screen – “Talledega Nights” should be well on its way to being a new comedy classic.