Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

By  · Published on August 1st, 2006

Release Date: August 4, 2006

What is it about these movies? Why is it that I can laugh almost to the point of having a bladder related accident at a myriad of mindless entertainment like Anchorman? Until now I have not been able to put my finger on it. But upon screening Will Ferrell’s latest venture Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, I finally figured it out. It have very little to do with Ferrell or even Director Adam McKay separately, as it is the combination of the two that creates the humor that keeps me rolling in my seat. It is something special to behold, as a director and actor team very rarely strike twice with two movies that are so similar in nature. But that is exactly what they have done, only this time it is at the expense of America’s number one spectator sport.

Any intelligent, reasonable American in the know understands that there is something about NASCAR that appeals to so many people, we just can’t figure out what it is. The sport is generally a bunch of guys in fast cars constantly turning left. What really draws the crowds though, is the potential of the big wreck, and that is what has pushed NASCAR’s popularity to the top of American sports. But that popularity has caused the sport to get a little ridiculous, holding their drivers up on a pedestal for all to see. This has paved the way for the drivers to show off their “tact” and “intelligence” to the world, and it has also created a huge market for advertisers, as the cars themselves have become moving billboards. And that brings about the point of a movie like Talladega Nights; to make fun of NASCAR and all of it’s crazy but loyal fans.

Of course, when you combine that premise with a tandem like Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, you have a recipe for one hilarious film. Together they penned the screenplay about Ricky Bobby (Farrell), a man who lives his life by the phrase “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” It is that phrase that carries Ricky to the top of NASCAR and into the spotlight. But when his racing team, owned by the slithering Larry Dennit Jr. (played by Ally McBeal’s Greg Germann) decides to go another direction and bring on European superstar driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), Ricky is put into a competitive frenzy. The frenzy ends with a horrific accident that puts Ricky out of the game.

The rest of the story is a hilarious tale of self affirmation and redemption as Ricky Bobby tries to repair broken relationships with his deadbeat father (Gary Cole), his best friend (John C. Reilly) and everyone else who has ever truly believed in him. If it weren’t such a funny film, it would be your average melodramatic redemption story. But that’s what makes it so great, because it is so funny that you can easily disregard the lackluster plot.

As for Will Ferrell, he is hysterical as usual, but it is those who surround him that really deliver the humor. For me, this is where the touch of director Adam McKay really shines through, in the excellence of the supporting cast. John C. Reilly has an amazing balance with Ferrell, and their on screen relationship delivers tons of laughs with its dysfunction. Academy Award nominee Amy Adams, who plays Ricky Bobby’s personal assistant, is truly a gift to this picture; even though she has minimal screen time and a relatively small role at first, it is her performance that breathes life into the story late in the film, keeping us interested for the big finale. Without her adorable and infectious personality, this film may have lost some of the audience about two thirds of the way in.

But Talladega Nights does not lose the audience at any point. This fast paced, satirical comedy plays out just the way Ferrell and McKay intend it to, capturing the most humorous side of the nation’s favorite sport. And in order to truly enjoy this film, you have to take it for what it is, a mindless comedy. If you go in looking for a great story or a wholesome message, you will be sadly disappointed. But if you go in looking for something that is easy to enjoy without having to think too hard, you will laugh your ass off. If you have enjoyed this type of humor in the past (Anchorman, Old School, Wedding Crashers, etc.) or you just enjoy the humor in the sport of NASCAR, then Talladega Nights is of the “not to be missed” variety.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)