At the movies: *The Campaign*

THE CAMPAIGN promo poster, via the movie's Facebook page

The Campaign
Comedy, 2012 (rated R)
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, Katherine La Nesa, Sarah Baker
Written by: Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Directed by: Jay Roach

Synopsis, via RottenTomatoes.com:
When long-term congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) commits a major public gaffe before an upcoming election, a pair of ultra-wealthy CEOs plot to put up a rival candidate and gain influence over their North Carolina district. Their man: naïve Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), director of the local Tourism Center. At first, Marty appears to be the unlikeliest possible choice but, with the help of his new benefactors’ support, a cutthroat campaign manager and his family’s political connections, he soon becomes a contender who gives the charismatic Cam plenty to worry about. As Election Day closes in, the two are locked in a dead heat, with insults quickly escalating to injury until all they care about is burying each other, in this mud-slinging, back-stabbing, home-wrecking comedy. — (C) Warner Bros.

We’re just weeks from the quadrennial madness of the national political-party conventions that kick the election season into overdrive, and the madness seems to get madder–on multiple levels–every four years. The election-themed comedy The Campaign couldn’t be more timely or topical, and mines a lot of its humor without hugely exaggerating modern political campaigning. I’m not sure whether that’s funny or not, to be honest. Much of the 21st-century political process is as much fodder for horror as it is for satire.

In all honesty, I’m not a huge fan of either of The Campaign’s stars, Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis, but I liked the concept and there were some great scenes in the trailer, so I was open to giving it a shot. There’s plenty of the outrageous, outlandish, occasionally cringe-inducing humor one might expect from a vehicle with these two actors–and again in all honesty, I laughed a lot, and probably at plenty of things I shouldn’t have. That said, The Campaign also reflects some smarts about how the process it’s lampooning really works, and the more interest you have in politics–or, at the very least, you’re a fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart–the more you’ll appreciate that.

The specifics of the political shenanigans in The Campaignn are clearly exaggerated for comic effect, but much of their inspiration is stone-cold fact, and certainly cause for consideration (if not outright cynicism). It’s money that matters, now more than ever, and it’s in the hands of fewer than ever, steering things to their liking; public service to any “public” aside from the bankrollers is probably incidental, and it’s all more about the horse race than “service” anyway.

As the ridiculously wealthy and powerful Motch brothers tell a prospective candidate early in the film, “We’re job creators. So we’re also political creators.” When that candidate won’t play by their rules, they find another, Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins, who doesn’t even grasp that these guys are the ones making the rules until it’s almost too late. Marty’s opponent, four-time Congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell), gets the rules, but doesn’t quite get–again, till it’s almost too late–that he may be undone by them. The stakes are pretty serious in real-world terms, but because The Campaign is a movie comedy, hijinks must ensue, and they do. Fortunately, they’re accompanied by some on-target observations and a satisfying fairy-tale ending. Real-world politics seem short of both these days.

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