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Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 

Will it have you racing to the theater?

Genre: Comedy of fast cars and loud screams

The Pitch: All-American racing champ Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) sees his world crumble after a challenge from Jean Girard ("Ali G's" Sacha Baron Cohen), a gay, French Formula One racer. Can his family and the right woman (Oscar nominee Amy Adams) teach him the right reasons for driving at suicidal speeds?

Money shots: Jean's gratuitous displays of Frenchness include sipping a macchiato and reading Camus while behind the wheel. Ricky bottoms out as a bicycle-riding pizza delivery boy. Ricky renews his courage by driving blindfolded (bad idea) and riding with a cougar (worse idea). A spectacular car crash goes on so long, a commercial interrupts it.

Best line: Ricky's trashy wife (Leslie Bibb) justifies the bullying behavior of their sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, by saying, "If we wanted us some wussies, we woulda named them Dr. Quinn and Medicine Woman!"

Product placement: Ricky drives for Wonder Bread, while Jean drives for Perrier. Ricky is contractually obligated to mention Powerade every time he says grace. Ricky and sidekick Cal (John C. Reilly) have the catchphrase "Shake and bake!" Ricky's deadbeat dad (Gary Cole) gets frequently thrown out of Applebee's. Maybe the question is, what products don't get placed?

Flesh factor: Some groupies and gold diggers wear revealing outfits, but most of the skin we see belongs to Ferrell's pasty physique, especially when he repeatedly strips to his tighty-whiteys when he (falsely) believes he's on fire.

Political subtext: The screenplay by Ferrell and director Adam McKay deliberately messes with the heads of Red State NASCAR fans, flaunting such hot-button topics as gay marriage, men kissing, the French and whether you should pray to "the baby Jesus." They mock the racing world far more directly than Pixar's Cars.

The bottom line: Like Ferrell and McKay's previous teaming on Anchorman, the script seems to provide merely a pretext for funny outfits and noisy improvising, and doesn't pay off with the laughs they're banking on. Still, with Cohen, Cole and Jane Lynch (as Ricky's mother) among the pit crew, Talladega Nights makes it to the finish line.

3 stars

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