Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Ricky Bobby was born to go fast. Indeed, he was born in the back seat of a sweet 1968 Pontiac GTO going 105 mph, and until he entered school about the only words he could say were "I wanna go fast!" He gets that chance when, as a member of the pit crew for an also-ran NASCAR team, he's asked to take over for a driver whose work ethic doesn't include actually finishing the race.
Once behind the wheel, it's nowhere but up for Ricky Bobby. After all, as his father told him, "If you ain't first, you're last." That would be the same father who abandoned the family when Ricky was young to pursue his own racing dreams.
With racing fame come money, a nice home, a beautiful wife—and two bratty children, which is no wonder considering how obnoxious Ricky has become. But in life, as in racing, there are bumps and curves, and soon Ricky's starts to spin out of control. First comes the introduction of a new team member, the ultra-snooty Formula One driver Jean Girard—from France, no less! Soon Jean starts to win races, and Ricky is no longer No. 1. Then a spectacular wreck shakes Ricky's confidence and sanity. And finally his wife runs off with his lifelong friend, Cal.
Ricky has lost his family and his job. He can't go fast anymore. But with the help of his long-lost father, his ever-loyal crew chief, Lucius, and his encouraging assistant, Susan, Ricky slowly climbs back into the driver's seat.
Lucius remains a good friend despite Ricky's being an arrogant boor. Ricky's mom also never gives up on him. In fact, she takes the two young hellions that Ricky's sons have become and whips them into shape by declaring "Grandma Law," which includes strict discipline and churchgoing. In addition, Susan prevents Ricky from giving up on his life passion and persuades him to race again. Likewise, Ricky's dad, Reese, helps him overcome his fears (albeit using foolhardy and sometimes illegal tactics).
Through some hard life lessons, Ricky comes to see what he has become in the midst of his fame, and he apologizes to his friends for his previous behavior. Cal asks for and receives forgiveness from Ricky for stealing his wife, and the two estranged friends and racing partners make up in the end.
Jean is a hard competitor, but he plays fair. Though he says he'll never let Ricky beat him, at the same time he encourages him to try, not in a taunting way, but as a way of helping Ricky get his confidence back. Jean is a gracious loser at one point.
Ricky's family says grace over meals, and he opens his prayers addressing "Dear Lord Baby Jesus." That's a clue as to how irreverent these times of heavenward gratitude are. For example, Ricky thanks Jesus for giving him a "red-hot smokin' wife who's a stone-cold fox" and his $21.2 million earnings. Those around the dinner table then get into an impassioned discussion—mid-prayer, no less—about how they imagine Jesus, which includes His being the new lead singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd and a ninja fighter. (This sequence is repeated with more distasteful possibilities in outtakes that run with the closing credits.) Ricky's wife finally objects: "Finish the d--n grace, Ricky! I want you to do this good so God'll bless us and we'll win tomorrow." His sons then congratulate Dad on his prayer, adding that "you made that grace your b--ch."
After a wreck, Ricky thinks he's on fire and in panic prays, "Help me Jesus! Help me Jewish God! Help me Allah! Help me Tom Cruise!" In describing why Ricky needs a nemesis to be his best, Jean espouses some confused theology by saying, "God needs the devil."
One scene shows Grandma Lucy with her grandsons singing in the church choir. She also mentions that she's taken the boys to Sunday school.
Jean is a homosexual—for the NASCAR crowd this is almost as bad as his being French—and it's said that even his horses are gay. Jean introduces his "husband," pats him on the bottom several times and then kisses him passionately. After winning a race he spins his car in the grassy infield, and in an aerial shot we see that his tires have drawn an image of two men kissing. Later, Ricky and Jean kiss.
Suggestive come-ons are the rule. Double entendres, wisecracks and even plot points revolve around teen sex, anal sex, ménage à trois, sexual positions, erections, pornography, flashing (Ricky begs God to make sure the girl who lifts her shirt for him is over 18), "up-skirt" voyeurism and rampant promiscuity. Reese tells a group of elementary school kids, "It's the fastest who get paid, and it's the fastest who get laid."
Ricky and his wife passionately kiss over the dinner table with children and family present, and he then lays her out on the table and she wraps her legs around him. When Ricky and a fan make out in a bar, Ricky asks gawkers to look away "because we're gonna start making animal noises."
Ricky's wife often wears cleavage- and midriff-baring outfits. Other women wear bikinis or low-cut tops. In an outtake, Lucius confesses to dressing in women's clothing on a regular basis.
We see several spectacular crashes, complete with cars disintegrating as they flip through the air. Trying to convince his friends that he's paralyzed below the waist, Ricky stabs a knife into his thigh—with predictable results. His friends compound the damage in their effort to get the knife out, all played for laughs. During a fight Jean pins Ricky against a table and breaks his arm at the elbow; we see the arm bent at an impossible angle and hear crunching bones. Cal threatens to taser Jean, who responds by wielding a pool cue. A man fires a gun into the ceiling to stop the fight.
Reese drives his car like a maniac through city streets. Ricky later steers that car while blindfolded, and we see him careen off parked cars before smashing through the front of a house. Ricky backs a car into a woman's grocery cart and then accidentally hits a police officer, knocking him down.
During one of Reese's wacky attempts to help Ricky regain his courage, Ricky gets mauled by a cougar. We later see Ricky with bloody scratches on his face. Ricky punches his dad in the face. Reese twice gets tossed out of establishments for inappropriate behavior.
Crude or Profane Language
One bleeped f-word, another mumbled and another replaced by the euphemism "frigging." Ten utterances of the s-word, and other crudities such as "d--n," "h---" and "a--" are used about 50 times. Crude slang terms for male anatomy get tossed out about a dozen times, sometimes by children and as insults. Ricky's sons call their grandfather a "turd" and an "old fart," and a few characters use crude terms for bodily functions. God's name is abused almost 20 times (twice with "d--n"). Jesus' is interjected once. Ricky makes an obscene gesture toward a driver he's just beaten.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Reese is a drug dealer, and several times he talks about having "weed" in his car or room. (Once his grandson asks, "How much you selling that weed for, old man?") He also comments about being high in the past and adds, "I've got to lay off the peyote." He tells Ricky that he's hidden a kilo of cocaine under his car, though it turns out to be a bag of Lucky Charms. The deadbeat dad is rarely seen without an open beer can in his hand, and once he gives a partially drunk can to his grandson.
In despair, Ricky says, "I'm thinking of getting a gun and dealing crack." His first race sponsor is Laughing Clown Malt Liquor. After winning, he guzzles from champagne bottles. The wife of the racing-team owner is always drunk and drinking. Several scenes are set in a bar. Jean frequently has a cigarette in his hand, and we see Reese smoking as well.
Other Negative Elements
Ricky's sons are obnoxious hellions who mouth off to whomever they please, elders and parents included. In fact, when their grandfather asks how Ricky can allow them to disrespect him so badly, the racer responds, "I like the way they're talking to you 'cause they're winners." The destructive duo threaten to beat up their grandfather, and later their grandmother makes a comment that they have to stop throwing the radio to her when she's in the bathtub. When the subject of divorce comes up, the boys yell, "Yea, two Christmases!"
A 5-year-old Ricky is left alone in the car by his mother. He then steals the vehicle and operates the gas pedal with a baseball bat. As an adult he does a TV commercial for a tampon product.In two scenes, mistakenly thinking he's on fire, he strips down to his underwear and runs around the track.
I grew up in Daytona Beach and used to attend the Daytona 500 every year—for $10—back in the days of NASCAR greats such as Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, Tiny Lund and Cale Yarborough. (I was a huge fan of Yarborough's No. 21 maroon-and-white Ford.) At the time, stock-car racing was still very much a regional sport centered in the Southeast, so much so that when Massachusetts native Pete Hamilton was named NASCAR Rookie of the Year in 1968, it caused such a stir that you'd think the laws of the universe had been upended.
That's why I was looking forward to seeing Talladega Nights. Based on the trailers it promised to be a gentle spoof of the NASCAR culture, including a driver invading the sport from another foreign clime, France this time. (The universe again shudders.) It even had NASCAR's unofficial seal of approval. But this being a Will Ferrell project, I should've known better. Sure, his absurdist streak can be pretty funny, but based on his previous collaboration with director Adam McKay on Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, I should have known that anything coming from their sophomoric minds would be long on crude, juvenile sexual humor and gross-out gags. And, true enough, we get more of the same. Lots more of the same.
Interesting note about those misleading trailers, by the way. For some reason several of the funny scenes featured therein don't actually appear in the film or are seriously abbreviated. In their place is the torrent of foul language, sexual joking, bad attitudes and crude humor that Ferrell and McKay somehow think are funnier. They're wrong, and this film is the poorer for it.