Let me say up front: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is a better NASCAR movie than Days of Thunder. Of course, that’s like having better fashion sense than Britney Spears does these days. In absolute terms, this is a big, loud and very dumb Will Ferrell comedy. It’s also funnier than a loud fart at a church social. You know you shouldn’t laugh, but you do.
Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) is a dim, bellicose NASCAR star with a win-at-all-costs attitude that gains him fans but few friends on the track. His only real friends are his childhood buddy, the even-dimmer Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly) and his long-suffering crew chief, Lucius (Michael Clarke Duncan). He meets his wife (Leslie Bibb) when she flashes him in the winner circle and she eventually gives him two latently delinquent sons, Walker and Texas Ranger.
Ricky’s new car owner (Greg Germann) despises his crass, unmanageable driver and conspires to bring in a more marketable property, the very French, very gay Formula 1 driver, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen). Their rivalry pushes Ricky to take stupid chances (which is really the only kind he can take), leading to a wreck that costs him his job, his wife and his self-confidence. He’s forced to turn to his boozing, womanizing father (Gary Cole) while his mother (Jane Lynch) tries everything she can to keep her two grandchildren from someday being featured on Cops and America’s Most Wanted. Junebug’s Amy Adams is also on hand as a shy girl hiding surprising passions.
The movie is somewhat endearing in how it’s willing to sink as low as possible to make us laugh, without actually having a single mean-spirited thought in its developmentally challenged brain. NASCAR, which obviously gave this movie its full cooperation, gets off lightly despite being ripe for a more merciless lampooning. This was probably the price of that full cooperation, which includes appearance by more than one driver as well as both the Fox and NBC broadcasting teams. The film does take aim at NASCAR status as America’s newest and loudest corporate shill, allowing Talladega Nights to get away with shameless product placements in nearly every frame and make it into a punch line.
You don’t have to be a NASCAR fan to get the jokes (and it may be better if you’re not, lest you spend the entire film pointing out the movie’s obvious “mistakes”), but between Will Ferrell’s willingness to go anywhere for a laugh to Sacha Baron Cohen’s absurdly flamboyant accent, there is a movie that deserves a place on everyone’s list of guilty pleasures.