Movie Review: ‘The Campaign’

the campaign

‘The Campaign’ — a film review by Gary Chew

How could a super jerk incumbent candidate lose an election running on a platform of America, Jesus and freedom? That’s the ticket Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) looks to have sewn up in another unopposed run for the House of Representatives from the 14th District of North Carolina. But wait just a minute, isn’t that the prissy local tourist business guy, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakas), who’s just thrown his hat in the campaign ring to run against Cam?

This timely, vulgar motion picture, called “The Campaign,” is now playing at cineplexes all across this great nation of ours … and not a minute too soon, my fellow Americans.

the campaign
Will Ferrell as four term congressman Cam Brady woos fundamentalist voters in The Campaign.

Chris Henchy’s script doesn’t suggest, but rather gets right in your face about how disgusted most Americans have become about the U.S. government and the absurdity of our currently sputtering political system. That disgust is what stokes laughter when seeing “The Campaign,” directed by that “Austin Powers” guy, Jay Roach.

Not only does Jesus seem to be in both fictitious candidates’ platforms, but He is also referred to as an American in some of the loony rhetoric occasioning the stump speeches of Cam and Marty.

What might offend some (but hopefully won’t) is that, from the screenplay’s point of view, the given in “The Campaign” is: many Americans don’t have the sense God gave a goose. Thankfully and unfortunately, that’s the reason the film is timely, even if it is El Rauncho Grande in the blue language department.

The crap the Cam character pulls is really difficult to suspend your disbelief about. That’s probably why Ferrell plays him and it works so well. Same for Galifianakas, but Zach gives much the same shape to his “Marty” character that Jack Black does his “Bernie” role in the current, well-received movie of the same name. Both characters in either film call for each actor to be precious in demeanor, exuding gay body language, most significantly when speaking or walking.

It’s not clear whether Black’s character in “Bernie” is gay, but Galifinakas’s Marty isn’t—what with a sweet, homey wife and two strapping young sons around the house.

The schtick for gayness in films and on television is rampant. And doesn’t that blend well with the timeliness of the same-sex marriage issue jumping the tracks at your local Chick-fil-A and heading into the presidential election?

the campaign
John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd play the the Motch brothers.

Two older even more familiar faces play the the Motch brothers. With thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the Motches are manipulating billionaires buying the election. My sense of Lithgow and Akyroyd in these part is…these dudes were having a ball.

News reports have had it that “The Campaign,” prior to opening, was not amusing the Koch Brothers. Surely though, the Koch front office must appreciate the possibility the film’s box office will be appreciably enhanced as more moviegoers learn that Charles and David Koch aren’t happy with the innuendo.

Dylan McDermott, as Tim, is the mendacious, big money, black-suit Motch brothers’ guy who takes over Marty’s life to get Huggins into the appropriately framed, phony lifestyle that’s sure to bring up the challenger’s numbers with the one-channel-media-conditioned masses.

Jason Sudekis (another SNL fave) plays Mitch, Tim’s counterpart for the Brady campaign. It turns out Mitch isn’t such a terrible person as we’re led to believe.

A few cable TV talk show personalities show up in brief clips, as themselves, delivering news about the Brady/Huggins race. Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, Piers Morgan, Wolf Blitzer, Lawrence O’Donnell as well as the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”  do their number.

No hosts of mainline network television news programs are included, nor any hosts or commentators from Fox News Channel.

Political hate commercials are a focus the “The Campaign.” One spot uses a video clip of Cal seducing Marty’s wife. The seduction is payback for getting Cal picked up on a DWI after Cam drops by Marty’s house and  is served some really potent bourbon . As soon as Cal staggers from Marty’s front door and speeds off in his garish campaign car, Marty calls the cops.

Zach Galifianakis and Dylan McDermott in The Campaign
Zach Galifianakis as challenger Marty Huggins is coached by Dylan McDermott.

Try not laughing about that.

Ferrell and Galifianakas play their roles as Southerners. Ferrell occasionally slips into a pronunciation pattern that prompted me to remember how former North Carolina U.S. Senator John Edwards speaks.

A running gag in “The Campaign” is the surprising identity of a woman who plays a sassy house servant in the film. You first hear her speak without seeing her. At the close of the film, you hear “another” woman’s voice (off camera) and discover that she is also she same woman who surprises you in the earlier scene.

The actor’s name is Karen Maruyama, a Japanese American who had a small part in “Pulp Fiction.” The voices Maruyama intones are, first, in the dialect of an Afro-American woman…then later…in that of a Latina.

Lots of laughs here.

That joke has the same effect as the famous Groucho Marx quip, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

Wouldn’t it be fun to be a fly on the wall of a D.C. movie theater and all the U.S. Congress were there at a mandatory-attendance-screening of this movie. I wonder who’d be laughing most…or maybe, even if there would be any laughter.

Heavens, there could ensue a filibuster in the section of the cinema where senators are seated.

Gary Chew
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