Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

A humorous look at a prominent subculture

". . . If we are to become men we need the help of other men,
we need our fathers to model for us and then to anoint us, we need our buddies to share the coming-of-age rituals with us and to let us join the team of men . . . ." Frank Pittman

I didn't know Talladega Superspeedway is NASCAR Mecca, a race place where devoted fans party and drivers preen, all the time providing snobs like me with redneck stereotypes that play well in late night TV humor. Yet I'm a part of an effete stereotype itself, a hyper-educated egghead with an Accord rather than a Camero and little knowledge of formula car racing.

But I'm not detached enough to tell you that Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is a funny film, in part because of the redneck dumbing down (The Dale Earnhardts demand respect; no satire allowed there) and also because Will Ferrell as ace driver Ricky Bobby and John C. Reilly as his buddy, Cal Naughton, Jr., are effective race car drivers with slightly slow wits and big hearts, especially for each other.

Ricky's two sons are named Walker and Texas Ranger, he screams "Help me, Jesus! Help me, Tom Cruise! Tom Cruise, use your witchcraft to get the fire off me!" after an accident, and his wife is a hot blonde who goes where the earning potential is greatest. This is not brilliant comedic material, but it is a tribute to the actors and their sometimes improvised lines that I frequently laughed out loud as they confirmed my best Jeff Foxworthy insights about rednecks.

Besides being a spoof, Nights is also a buddy film with hilarious and tender moments of friendship amid the chaos of track racing groupies and corporate meddling. Similarly, the French and gay bashing portrait of Ricky's accomplished rival is a successful satire of our deepest-held fears about homoeroticism and international disdain for our immaturities. All this satire has been done before, so no kudos for creativity. In fact, the plot of Nights is similar to that of Anchorman, on which both the director and star collaborated.

Ricky Bobby's mantra, picked up from his erstwhile dad (Gary Cole), states, "If you're not first, you're last." Nights is not the best comedy of the summer, that honor goes to Little Miss Sunshine, but it stands with Clerks II as a humorous look at a prominent subculture whose political clout is approaching the status of "soccer moms."