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Review: Talladega Nights

August 7, 2006

Talladega Nights
Will Ferrell
Sasha Baron Cohen
John C Reilly

(no time for links or italics)

Talladega Nights achieved the feat of being a mainstream comedy and a subversive dig at Red State USA. The framework for the cast’s improv comedy is a testosterone addled story of a man learning humility and “the real meaning of life” after dealing with becoming a success, a framework that’s been exploited for jokes many times in the last decade. For the first third of the film, it seems like a spoof of good ol’ boys never meanin’ no harm, out there havin’ fun and racin’ cars. Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby becomes a NASCAR sensation and an insanely driven, obnoxious hero to thousands. However, when a French Formula I driver, Jean Girard (Cohen), decides to take on a new challenge as a stock car racer, Bobby’s life is overturned. Cohen’s appearance is also where the film’s substance takes off. The effete, openly gay (with a husband, no less) French man can whip the American studs at everything, including a fair fight. It is the worst nightmare of Rumsfeld, a European who makes us look like morons AND kicks our asses.

Seeing the film here in NASCAR country was interesting, like seeing Schwarzenegger’s ill conceived action movie spoof, Last Action Hero, in a room full of stunt men and bodybuilders. Sometimes the humor in Talladega Nights was political and pointed, and the room grew silent at the barbs at what they perceived as American values.

Despite Cohen’s brilliant mock Euro-villian, Jean Paul Belmondo (right down to the way he holds his cigarettes) in Don Knotts body, the film is all Farrell and his amazing willingness to be shameless in an effort to make us laugh, running from an imaginary fire after a car crash begging for help from Oprah Winfrey stripped down to a pair of tighty whiteys, and at Christmas dinner, ranting on about how he prefers baby Jesus to adult Jesus.

In the film’s happy ending (did you think otherwise?) Ferrell is superimposed over an American flag as pluck has once again defeated skill. Girard is one of those honorable villains you find all over action cinema, a foreign enemy who respects us even though we hate him In the end even though America (F*** yeah!) through Bobby, kicks derriere, we give the foreigner respect back, this time in the form of an elongated open mouth kiss between Girard and Bobby.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2006 10:53 am

    I find interesting your calling Talladega Nights a “subversive dig” at Red State USA. I suppose you are right, but here in Montgomery the theaters were packed over the weekend and the good ole boys on the local paper’s reader forum weren’t too offended and took it all in good stride. Maybe they are more enlightened down here. Ted Baehr who runs Movieguide, however, was real upset. His review entitled, “Mocking the Bible Belt and Red State America” called the movie “a racist, bigoted work that ridicules the Bible Belt, Southern white men, Christianity, Jesus Christ, the family, and American masculinity.” I’d call him an old wet hen and leave it at that, but I suspect he has a lot of followers who hang on every word. Dr. Baehr does need to learn how to spell Will Ferrell’s name, which he spelled “Farrall” the whole way through so I know it wasn’t a typo. Anyway, I loved the movie and if we can’t laugh, then what are we left with–bird flu, Al-Qaeda, and reality.

  2. August 9, 2006 1:47 pm

    That’s what made it so interesting to see how people here dealt with the subversive stuff. Their silence was telling, however there was so much to laugh at they probably forgot about all of the things they might find offensive. I don’t want to get into a “my rednecks are cooler than yours” battle here, but it wasn’t that people were offended, they just didn’t like the idea that someone was taking the piss with them and slagging the things they espouse. The filmmakers certainly didn’t let that stuff linger on too long — one quip and it’s back to Ferrell’s broad comedy.

    I always slip in a “Farrell” when talking about Ferrell’s work. Hard for MASH fans to keep from doing.

  3. August 9, 2006 1:57 pm

    Oh, as proof of the subversiveness, the C&W soundtrack is mostly Steve Earle. Come on. Steve Earle.

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