Just flip from VH1’s I Love the ’70s to the Speed Channel, and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy becomes Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Will Ferrell’s eponymous NASCAR champ may always finish first in the world of stock-car racing, but his new character is hardly quicker on the draw than the actor’s sideburned, helmed-haired newsman. Oblivious denseness has been the actor’s flavor of choice since his early SNL days, and each new comedy, like Chuck Jones’s Road Runner episodes, introduces a small modulation of the recipe: Zoolander’s Jacobim Mugatu was an extended catwalk hissyfit, while his Ron Burgundy was a billboard for he-man pomposity, both marinated in Ferrell’s patented big-guy silliness.
Talladega Nights, which Ferrell scripted with director Adam McKay, finds the comic in boneheaded-jock mode, his Ricky Bobby literally a born racer, shooting out of his mother’s belly in the backseat of a Chevelle. Revved up by the win-at-all-costs advice given by his mostly absent father (Gary Cole), Ricky becomes a national hero in Talladega’s racing circuit, fully equipped with blond trophy wife and a fortune from advertising tackiness. After his top position is usurped by Formula One challenger Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), who conflates the two redneck horrors of being gay and French, Ricky is reduced to delivering pizzas, until, this being both a scattershot comedy and a sports flick, it’s time for a triumphant comeback.
To the film’s credit, the inevitable third-act competition is staged to bring forward the absurd humor that eluded Tom Cruise and Tony Scott in Days of Thunder, and the zaniness is spread generously to a lively supporting cast that includes John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Molly Shannon, Jane Lynch, and David Koechner. (By contrast, Junebug’s magical Amy Adams is wasted on an inexcusably colorless role.) Rambunctious and synthetic, Talladega Nights boasts its fair share of inspired Ferrell riffs, even if, as a satire of the NASCAR subculture, it mostly runs on fumes.