In many respects the Southern sibling of 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell’s latest act of comedic absurdity Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is also, beneath its product placement-pockmarked façade and heavy layer of ludicrousness, a loving send-up of 21st century American pop and political culture. Delivering a barrage of random surreality as it recounts the rise and fall (and eventual rise) of professional NASCAR driver and all-around reckless idiot Ricky Bobby, Ferrell and director/co-writer Adam McKay’s film isn’t as consistently funny as Anchorman, a situation largely attributable to the fact that its realistic NASCAR milieu is – when compared with its predecessor’s fancifully inauthentic recreation of the ‘70s TV news environment – not quite as ideal a setting for bizarre flights of fancy. Still, there’s plenty to savor in Ferrell’s aggressively egotistical knucklehead routine (including his dogged persistence during an extended early bit involving Ricky saying grace to the baby Jesus), and his stupid-silly shenanigans are greatly enlivened by the equally goofy presence of John C. Reilly as Ricky’s best friend and loyal right-hand man Cal Naughton, Jr. Talladega Nights thrives on the strength of its out-of-left-field utterances and incidents, the best of which occur before and after the overly long middle section featuring a disgraced Ricky living with his mom and learning a lesson in humility. However, even when it strains to keep itself uproarious, the film is bolstered by its underlying portrait of the U.S.’s bitter national tensions, with Ferrell and McKay’s script gently, but shrewdly, skewering both ignorant, intolerant good ol’ boy conservatism as well as insistent in-your-face ultra-liberalism (embodied by Sacha Baron Cohen’s gay French F-1 champ) as culprits responsible for current red-state, blue-state rifts. Critical of the country’s bitter schisms yet affectionately accepting of our most embarrassing lowbrow excesses and ill-advised attitudes, Talladega Nights is an astute cultural satire masquerading as an infectiously stupid-silly lark – or, perhaps, it’s the other way around. Regardless, the often-hilarious movie’s a uniter, not a divider.