(Columbia) Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Leslie Bibb, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Amy Adams, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Greg Germann, Molly Shannon, Andy Richter, Houston Tumlin, Grayson Russell, Pat Hingle, Ted Manson. Directed by Adam McKay
I will admit to not being much of a NASCAR fan. The thrill of auto racing is something that has never really wrapped itself around my spine. I do get why people go gaga over it but it’s just not my thing so when I heard that Will Ferrell was making a NASCAR-themed movie, it wasn’t something I was particularly excited about.
Ricky Bobby (Ferrell), however, would undoubtedly be absolutely smitten with a movie about going fast. He was born in the back of a car doing 100 MPH with his ne’er-do-well drug dealing dad (Cole) at the wheel. The one bit of paternal advice he would give his son before disappearing out of his life entirely is this – if you don’t finish first, you’re last. They would be words that would drive Ricky Bobby his entire life.
It’s no surprise, then, when he becomes part of a pit crew for a sad-sack NASCAR racing team that has become the laughing stock of the circuit, with a driver who stops mid-race at the concession stand to enjoy a chicken sandwich. When opportunity knocks, Ricky Bobby leaps into the drivers seat and his innate ability to go real fast – and drive without fear – makes him the hottest thing in NASCAR, with the help of his best friend Cal (Reilly) who is content to play second fiddle to Ricky Bobby’s diva.
He marries a hot-looking NASCAR groupie named Carley (Bibb) who gets his attention with a timely boob flash, and the two create a family with two demonic kids named Walker (Tumlin) and Texas Ranger (Russell) who torment Carley’s dad (Manson) and everyone else. He wins race after race, but irritates the head of the race team (Germann) because he never wins the points championship because he gets penalized for unsportsmanlike-like conduct so often, but that’s just Ricky’s obsession with winning – anything else just doesn’t occur to him.
Bobby’s on top of the world, but it begins to unravel with the arrival of French Formula One driver Jean Girard (Cohen), who wants to prove himself better than his cocky American rival. Girard turns out to be even more ruthless on the track than Ricky Bobby, and the inevitable happens – Ricky Bobby gets into a crash. He walks away from it, convinced at first that he is on fire but later on, convinced that he is paralyzed. Neither is true, of course, as Cal and Ricky’s harried crew chief (Duncan) try to convince him. The truth is, Ricky Bobby has lost his nerve.
He winds up losing a lot more than that, as his sponsors drop him, the race team fires him and his wife leaves him for his best friend. Ricky Bobby is reduced to moving in with his mom and delivering pizzas on a bicycle. Fast is a distant memory.
That’s when Ricky’s dad re-enters the picture, and if ever he needed a father figure it’s now. Of course, Ricky’s dad is something of a whacko, so battling the fear that still lives inside him is no easy task. Everyone he’s ever counted on has left him – can he ever count on himself?
I have to admire the instincts of Ferrell and McKay, who also co-wrote the movie. This movie plays to Ferrell’s strengths without getting so over-the-top that the audience gets lost. Ricky Bobby is not unlike Ron Burgundy had Ron been born in an Alabama double-wide.
Also wisely, the movie never makes fun of racing itself, only some of the things that go on within it – the bitter rivalries, the pressure brought on by corporate sponsorships and the sometimes eccentric personalities of the drivers, crew and fans. NASCAR fans will probably not take too much offense, although there might be a few who find the movie crude.
This is as good a cast as you’re going to find in a comedy, with Oscar-nominated actor Reilly once again playing second banana, but doing it as well as anybody. Baron hams it up as the nearly indecipherable Frenchman and Cole shows a surprising comic talent in his part as well. Blink and you’ll almost miss Amy Adams’ turn as a loyal assistant, although she figures much more in things near the end of the movie – and she does a great job in a role which others might have phoned in.
The laughs are plentiful – if I’m laughing out loud during a movie when I’m supposed to, I figure the filmmakers are doing their job. While you don’t need to be a big NASCAR fan to enjoy the movie, a lot of in-jokes undoubtedly went whizzing by me. I liked this movie a bit more than I thought I was going to – which is turning out to be a theme in this week’s newsletter and that is the kind of theme I can get into.
WHY RENT THIS: It’s laugh-out-loud funny, certainly one of Ferrell’s better efforts to date. Some of the most iconic comedy sequences of the decade can be found here.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Like most comedies, it can be pretty scattershot. Those who really cannot stand NASCAR or auto racing in general may not find much in the movie to grab onto.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the jokes are a bit on the crude side and the language occasionally drifts into the foul lane but by and large reasonably acceptable for younger crowds.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Blu-Ray Discs of the movie were included with the first 400,000 PlayStation 3 units sold.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As you might expect, there are a plethora of them including a gaggle of fake interviews with the cast members in character, the now-standard Line-o-Rama feature that is included with most Judd Apatow-produced DVDs as well as a commentary track that is a spoof of DVD commentary tracks with the director acting pretentious and giving out facts that are patently untrue.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Fantastic Mr. Fox