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Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006 12:59 am

Redneck redemption

NASCAR culture gets parodied in Talladega Nights

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Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Talladega Nights, a tribute to arrested development, is the best comedy of the summer, but that’s only because there have been so few of them. Like a day at the racetrack, this parody of NASCAR culture runs in fits and starts: Sometimes it’s uproariously funny; sometimes it tries too hard.

Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) is the king of the oval arena, and he has the money, fame, endorsements, and smokin’-hot wife to prove it. Is there more to Bobby than his ability to turn left? No, not really — something Bobby realizes after a horrific crash, when he is deserted by his sponsors, wife, best friend, and racing team. Without a car or a purpose, Bobby is forced to deliver pizzas by bicycle to earn a few bucks. Can it get any worse? Actually, it can.

Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay do a good job of hitting the good-ol’-boy culture of NASCAR where it hurts. Bobby; his best buddy and fellow driver, Cal (John C. Reilly); and his wife, Carley (Leslie Bibb), are portrayed as ignorant, uncouth rubes whose selfishness is only outweighed by their bad fashion sense. Let’s hope NASCAR fans have a good sense of humor.

What will be reassuring for the NASCAR faithful is that those family values they hold so near and dear to their hearts end up being Bobby’s salvation. With nowhere left to turn, he goes back home to live with his mother, Lucy (Jane Lynch), who whips his two hellion kids into shape and puts him in contact with his father, Reese (Gary Cole), a drifter with an unique outlook on life and racing. This family may be broken, but when they’re forced to come together, redemption for them all is within reach.

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