There is no arguing the vast fan appeal of NASCAR. It is a multi-billion dollar business that attracts dozens of sponsors, millions of fans and has little boys and girls all over the U.S. (mostly the South if you want to buy into the stereotype, which I do not) dreaming of growing up to become racecar drivers. NASCAR is a subject that Hollywood has examined in serious films, such as Days of Thunder, Driven and of course 43: The Richard Petty Story. There is also the comedy Stroker Ace set in a NASCAR world and Six Pack, which while actually about stock-car racing, is closely related.
Now NASCAR is the backdrop for Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Clarke Duncan and Leslie Bibb, directed by Adam McKay, from a screenplay by Ferrell and McKay, and it is much funnier than expected in spite of being a virtual orgy of product placement. Then again, given the amount of advertisements present at any NASCAR event, heavy product placement should have been anticipated and expected, as fitting the theme of this film.
Ferrell is “Ricky Bobby”, son of “Reese Bobby” (Gary Cole) and from the moment of his birth all he wanted to do was “go fast”. After a troubled childhood, he gets his chance when he and his best friend “Cal Naughton” (Reilly) are working as part of the pit crew for a losing race team whose driver is so far behind in one race that he decided to take a longer than usual pit stop. To avoid losing their sponsor, Ricky Bobby gets behind the wheel of the team’s car and speeds onto the track.
Soon he is winning every race in sight, living up to his father’s motto of “You’re either first or you’re last,” has married a blonde racecar driver groupie (Bibb) and is living the NASCAR dream in a huge mansion with his wife and their two kids. His best friend is driving his team’s second car and Bobby has millions in winnings. Oh, there are minor bumps in his road, like Cal wanting him to let him win just one race someday. Ricky Bobby makes it clear that there is only room for one Number #1 and that’s Ricky Bobby.
Then the French Grand Prix driving champion “Jean Girard” (Cohen) arrives on the scene, making a very splashy entrance, He announces that it is his intention to knock Ricky Bobby out of his #1 perch. In their first head-to-head race there is an accident and the scene you’ve most likely viewed in the trailer where Ricky Bobby, clad only in helmet, shoes and briefs runs around the track praying for deliverance from the imaginary flames.
He has lost his edge and quickly loses everything else in short order. Gone are his wife, who leaves him with the two bratty sons and without any money (where was the smart lawyer with the pre-nup?) and he ends up going home to his mother (Jane Lynch). Fortunately, Mama knows best and sets him back on the straight and narrow by calling in his once again long-lost father. Reese Bobby tells him that in order to become a winning driver again, he will have to confront his fear and helps him to do so.
A more cynical reviewer would take issue with the fact that Lucy Bobby didn’t manage to raise Ricky over a complete childhood with the values that she manages to instill in Ricky’s two hellion sons in just a few weeks/months, but since Ricky Bobby begins to finally show some depth and be interested in more than just winning, while regaining the desire to win, it still works.
If you go see this movie, you will laugh. And, if you do go see this movie, when the film is over, do not move from your seat. The outtakes are as funny if not funnier than the film itself.