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2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Campaign, The
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by Brett Gallman

"Gets my vote."
4 stars

“The Campaign” is every bit as silly and stupid as the as the American political scene. However, it’s also smarter than it too, and that’s the big joke.

Mud isn’t slung so much as it’s recklessly splattered and smeared in a tooth-and-nail battle that highlights the absurdity of American campaign culture, particularly in small-town Americana, where we lay our scene. Will Ferrell is Cam Brady, a three time congressional representative of a North Carolina district who’s benefited from running unopposed during his run. The revelation of an extramarital affair via a lewd phone message threatens his latest bid, as a couple of tycoon puppet masters (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide to tap local good-hearted weirdo Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) to run against Brady.

An epigraph from perennial presidential also-ran Ross Perot opens the film and reminds us that while both war and mud wrestling have rules, politics do not, and the script, penned with vulgar wit by Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy, wastes little time in reaffirming this. The campaign trail is lined with typical political jockeying amped up to farcical levels as ever pertinent topics like Jesus, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Communism are debated in favor of real issues. Galifianakis mistakenly calls a yarmulke a “Yamaha,” while Ferrell punches a baby.

Somehow, it gets worse and even more riotous from there since the film relentlessly chugs ahead before escalating into abject silliness. Ferrell and Galifianakis anchor the proceedings with a couple of strong, confident performances that allow them to riff on familiar shticks. Cam Brady is another buffoonish dolt, a womanizer who compensates for a lack of intelligence with an overabundance of misplaced swagger. Out of the Ricky Bobby mold, he’s just a homespun mouth-breather guided by his belief in Jesus, America (read: “Amurica”), and freedom, a catchphrase that sounds really nice--but don’t ask him what it means. When given a chance to be truly unleashed, Ferrell delivers the expected gibberish-laden tirades that make Brady endearing even as he spirals into insanity.

He’s not as much of a casualty as his counterpart, however; poor Marty Huggins is just a warm-hearted, peculiar black sheep from a prosperous local family. Even in adulthood, he’s done nothing to shed his label as the dumpy weird man-about-town; Galifianakis infuses him with a “bless your heart” sweetness that elicits equal parts pity and admiration. Huggins might be an odd guy with a penchant for hideous sweaters and pug throw pillows, but that’s who he is, and Galifianakis’s distinctive southern drawl (no doubt perfected after many years of living in the Tobacco State) is both disarming and daffy. If his opponent is a good old boy who doesn’t mean any harm with his impish indiscretions, then Huggins is a really good old boy that doesn’t even know the meaning of the word harm.

While the two leads claw, scratch, and chew at each other (and the scenery) to delightfully disastrous results, they’re surrounded by a wealth of funny performances. The two candidates’ wives mirror their husbands’ contrast, as Katherine LaNasa is a borederline trophy-wife for Brady, a front-runner with aspirations of her own. On the other hand, Sarah Baker is Mary’s high school sweetheart who mostly just lives for Drew Carey’s hosting of “The Price is Right.” Jason Sudekis and Dylan McDermott are the campaign managers; the former provides a rare voice of reason (which perhaps dilutes his comedic talents a bit), while the latter is an enigmatic fast-talker who’s more hitman than political advisor. A handful of the film’s funniest moments come courtesy of Karen Maruyama, the Huggins’ Asian maid forced to play a Mammy stereotype to please the family patriarch (Brian Cox) and remind him of “the good old days.”

Such mixing of crass humor with perceptiveness gives the film a satiric platform from which to stump; it presents an obviously heightened campaign trial, but the signposts littered about are strikingly familiar--the empty rhetoric, the buzzwords, the vitriolic campaign ads, and, most importantly, public culpability. Voters aren’t left off the hook, as the film takes square aim at the silliness of American priorities; in such an idiocracy, the candidates’ actions aren’t as important as their words and their persona. Eccentric though he may be, Marty Huggins is a perfectly okay guy, but he’s made-over into a more masculine figure, his pugs replaced with labs, his humble abode turned into something of a sportsman’s paradise to please voters. As both candidates’ behavior becomes more unsavory, their approval ratings go up, turning the proceedings into a farce befitting reality television.

The satirical fangs stay rather sharp for the most part, particularly when they’re bared against the insidious big business pulling the strings behind the scenes. Aykroyd and Lithgow are the thinly-veiled Motch Brothers, a couple of Machiavellian billionaires looking for the candidate that’ll double their “already doubled profits” with lax business regulation. As such, the film takes the position that both parties are victims of corruption, a tack that eventually dulls the film’s bite a bit as it descends into treacly moralizing and feel-good sentiment that reveals a more optimistic view of politics than most might be able to muster in reality. After all, this isn’t all that removed from reality--consider the mysterious primary victory of Alvin Greene in South Carolina a few years ago as evidence. Imagining a political landscape that gets tidily reformed--or hell, reformed at all--seems like a bit of a cop-out considering the film spends 80 minutes exposing its hideous underbelly.

Maybe it’s the film we need, though; political cynicism is in full swing at this point, and “The Campaign” presents a mad world born out of that cynicism, which gets channeled into a hilarious and savage bit of campaign reform by way of catharsis. Consider it the cock-eyed, vulgar, but inexplicably insightful cousin to “The Ides of March,” and you’ve got a fine double feature that adequately captures a political machine that’s roared out of control. This one attempts to dismantle it with winks, nudges, and bawdy takedowns, leaving its parts sufficiently skewered and exposed of all their stupidity.

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originally posted: 08/11/12 13:31:07
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User Comments

2/18/14 Luisa Zach and Will are insanely funny! 4 stars
9/30/12 Ronald Holst It woiuld be funny if it was not ironic 2 stars
8/30/12 matthew wood i love will ferrell and he portrays the dirty play that goes into politics 4 stars
8/20/12 Marty Some lol moments. I hate politics, and this was sometimes even dumber than politics. 2 stars
8/19/12 Alex The film went for cheap gags and profanity over a true indictment of the political process 2 stars
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  10-Aug-2012 (R)
  DVD: 30-Oct-2012


  DVD: 30-Oct-2012

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