Will Ferrell has a mission, if not an obsession — to celebrate, and satirize, the pumped-up folly of American manhood — and he has found a customized vehicle for it in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. As Ricky, a NASCAR racer with major daddy issues who grows up nursing one thought (”I wanna go fast”), Ferrell uses his steady-silly baby-fat gaze and impervious ego to make gleeful fun of the tacky bravado of ”outlaw” Southern car culture.
How arrogant a yokel is Ricky? He can’t stop preening about his skills (”I wake up…and I p— excellence!”), he’s so greedy for sponsors that he plasters a Fig Newton decal on his windshield, and he turns the act of saying grace into a competitive sport. He also won’t let his best friend, the boobish rube Cal (John C. Reilly), win a single race. Talladega Nights takes some very funny cheap shots, especially when Ricky faces down his new team member — a gay, French, Camus-reading-behind-the-wheel Formula One driver played, with a leer worthy of Peter Sellers, by Sacha Baron Cohen.
A Will Ferrell blowhard must, of course, be brought down, and Talladega Nights grows flakier and more uneven the lower Ricky falls. The races, however, are scorchingly shot, and they lend the movie a zest that was missing from Anchorman, Ferrell’s last collaboration with director/co-writer Adam McKay. This one scores laughs right down to its gloriously gaga climactic smooch.