‘The Campaign’ provides the laughs America needs with stinging satire and sharp performances
By Carl Kozlowski 09/06/2012
With the two most divisive and partisan weeks of the year — the Republican and Democratic national conventions — behind us, we could all use a laugh. And with the nation’s theaters rolling out no major movies this weekend, now is the perfect time to point out a film that I didn’t review a couple weeks back.
“The Campaign” is precisely the laugh-inducing antidote we all need to counter the poisonous politics that have engulfed the country in what is already shaping up to be one of the toughest presidential battles ever.
Starring Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell as rivals for a North Carolina Senate seat, the film puts a hilarious spin on the extremely personal level of attacks into which far too many races have deteriorated.
The story begins by following Ferrell as Cam Brady, a Democrat who’s a dead-on spoof of the notorious John Edwards as he constantly worries about his $900 haircut. Brady has the perfect-looking wife and two kids to create the all-American family image, but his wife is a gold-digger who hates him in private for his embarrassingly public affair with a bimbo — an affair that became public when he accidentally left a smutty phone message on the answering machine of a devout and highly offended Christian family.
Thusly damaged and dropping in the polls despite the fact he’s running unopposed, Brady is in more trouble than he realizes. That’s because the Motch brothers — two billionaires played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow in a barely veiled spoof of the notorious real-life Republican backers the Koch brothers — see that he can be defeated and have recruited Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) to run against him.
Huggins is a ridiculous mess of a man, a guy who makes Richard Simmons sound like Clint Eastwood, but despite being a lifelong loser, he has a heart that’s truly full of love for America, his hometown and his family. He doesn’t realize he’s being used as a foil for the Motch brothers, who hope that by backing Huggins they will have an eager and willing patsy who will vote on a major bill that will allow them to import vastly underpaid Chinese factory workers into Huggins’ district and reap even more profits than ever before.
And so the campaign begins, with ridiculous debates, absurd attack ads and amazing mishaps, such as the moment when Brady accidentally punches a baby on national television and steals a cop car for a drunken joyride. Every possible angle of our dirty campaign process is skewered royally, while the sharp direction and script keep things moving like a rocket.
As the candidates, Brady and Galifianakis create full-bodied, three-dimensional characters rather than the caricatures one might expect. There are a couple of quietly funny moments between the opponents that help the movie stay tethered to some level of reality, while providing a bit of a breather from all of the comedic insanity.
The film also scores points by having a couple of twists more than this type of film usually affords, and by showing both men as being flawed human beings in different ways who deep down want to do the right thing. At a time like this, with just two months left until we again pick a national leader, it might be hard to remember that people should run for office due to having high hopes and real dreams about what makes this country great, and “The Campaign” ultimately provides a glimmer of those high hopes.
While it does feature its fair share of raunchy moments and foul language, “The Campaign” is in its own way an attempt to make us remember that we have to stay positive and keep a sense of humor, even in these dire times. So this weekend, it may not be the newest movie in theaters, but it’s probably the most refreshing.