Mark Reviews Movies

The Campaign


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, Sarah Baker, Katherine LaNasa, John Lithgow, Dan Akroyd, Brian Cox

MPAA Rating: R (for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:25

Release Date: 8/10/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 9, 2012

The Campaign gives us a view of an imaginary political arena that is only a few levels escalated from the absurdity of the current one. Honestly, when one of the debates in the film turns into an all-out brawl because one candidate brings up a story the other wrote when the opponent was 8 years old and calls it his "Communist manifesto" (See, one character in the story gives a pot of gold to a leprechaun, and that, according to the first candidate, is an example of his foe's innate belief in the redistribution of wealth), we're laughing in part because we've heard arguments of this variety before and with seemingly more frequency in the past few years.

The film is far from cowardly, too. It names political parties, references real politicians, and offers us a set of billionaire industrialist brothers who have decided to buy their way into a campaign with the goal of influencing the decisions the candidate will make when he goes to Congress (They suppose it's not an "if" scenario, since they have the money).

This is just for background, though. While the film, written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, has a fairly blunt point of view that those businessmen (and a few others like them that appear in one scene) have the capability to weigh an election in favor of their candidate, that aspect is played as a given. The point is that the overall political has devolved so much that we can longer even discuss something as important as this subject without the debate immediately turning into cheap rhetorical tactics and tricks, and that's only if a politician bothers to raise issues before starting the assault. It's not a subtle dissection of the subject, but then again, that train left the station in the real world long ago.

Hammond, North Carolina, is home to Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), a Democrat whose serial philandering has had no effect on his ability to win four terms in office (He's seen in pictures with Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger just as a reminder, and he sends a photo of his penis to a woman on Twitter while on a break before the judge makes his fifth term official). He has run unopposed for years.

Enter those rich business executives, the Motch brothers Glenn and Wade (John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd), who see the area of Hammond as the perfect place to open a factory on American soil that will be free of government regulations and oversight like the one they have in China, allowing them to maximize their profits. They need someone in Congress to make that happen. That man is Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the black sheep of his family who runs the local tourism department. He's not intelligent by any measure (He has difficulty opening doors, even after he's done it before), but that hasn't stopped the Motches from having their way in the past.

Both have their empty campaign slogans (Cam is for "America, Jesus, and Freedom," privately admitting he has no idea what it means; Marty promises to bring a broom to Washington, D.C., because "It's a mess").  Both start pandering to the constituents of the district (Cam announces multiple groups, from veterans to amusement park employees, are "the backbone of America").

Their campaign managers—Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) for Cam and the mysterious Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) for Marty (Tim has a knack for showing up unannounced and unexpectedly; he eventually just sits in the Huggins' kitchen to skip a step)—have to navigate the oddities of their respective boss, and they both seem to have given the candidate the same advice for their first public meeting: Shake hands and don't let go, which leads to a most awkward handshake. While pretty much all of Cam's dirty laundry is out in the open, Marty insists his family confess to any past transgressions before the media get ahold of them. The string of ever-worsening admissions is the screenplay's method for many of its jokes—random and nonstop.

When the script starts focusing on the specifics, it adds some sting to the silly humor. Cam releases an ad that asks if Marty is "an al-Qaeda" or "a Taliban" simply because he has a mustache (The accusation has a parallel in real life: A sitting Congressman compared his opponent's views on women to those of the Taliban in a political ad), and Cam's campaign quickly shifts into wondering why Marty won't take a polygraph test.

The attack ads start becoming even more personal, like when Marty arranges a hidden camera to capture him convincing Cam's son to call Marty "dad."  In a leap in logic that only one without any grasp of logic could make, Cam decides the best way to respond to that attack is to make and air a sex tape. The film—questionably, as is always the case in such situations—uses real political pundits to supply commentary on the events in the story, and the only funny line one of them has comes with the realization that Cam has gone up in the polls after this lewd stunt.

For all its broad smacks at stereotypical representatives of each of the American political parties and political tactics, The Campaign wisely (and perhaps unintentionally) hits upon one bothersome truth through its episodic structure. It's the way every modern campaign is broken down from one speech to another—from one faux pas to the next. These guys have the latter down pat.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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