While politics has plenty of unintentional comedy -- especially in an election year -- there's always room for caricature. The Campaign is a comedy that dodges any philosophical or party differences to simply tackle the "win at all costs" approach to politics.

Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is the Democratic congressman from North Carolina. He's experienced, popular, and about to run for his fifth term -- without an opposing candidate. He's also bigger on crowd-pleasing speeches than empty policies (when asked what his slogan "Freedom! Jesus! America!" means, he answers, "I don't know -- but people love it when I say it") and a tremendous womanizer. When his obscene phone call gets released after he misdialed and left it on a religious family's answering machine, the Republicans see a chance to take the district -- and more.

The Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd, parodying the Republican billionaire kingmakers the Koch brothers) want to open a Chinese sweatshop in North Carolina, and they want a politician who'll waive any EPA and minimum wage requirements for their planned factory. They decide to go with Marty Huggins (Zack Galifianakis), a meek, slightly effeminate man who's happiest praying with his family and giving local tours.

Marty is initially unprepared for the cutthroat world of politics -- Cam's first attacks take place at a "civility brunch" for the two candidates -- but then the Motch brothers bring in Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), a ruthless campaign manager who provides Marty with scripted talking points and remakes everything from his dogs to his family. Meanwhile, Cam's campaign keeps running into problems -- from drunk driving to punching a baby -- and Mitch (Jason Sudeikis), his campaign manager, is more and more upset about how extreme Cam is getting in order to win.

The Campaign largely steers clear of ideological differences between the parties (except for their Motch brothers and a commentary on the Citizens United ruling) to go for borderline slapstick humor and the old themes that politics is about image and the quest for victory can be corrupting. Fortunately, with all the profanity-filles silliness, Ferrell and Galifianakis are terrific guides through this absurdly over-the-top world of politics. Ferrell is a hoot as the slick, experienced candidate who can't keep control of himself, while Galifianakis is a hoot as the slightly pathetic nice guy forced to become a warrior for his side. I also really enjoyed McDermott as the "Mr. Fixit" sent in as an election specialist who is focused solely on victory.

Even with cameos from news folks from CNN and MSNBC, The Campaign inhabits a world closer to the Marx Brothers than our world. Still, goofy as the movie is, The Campaign is often funny as well.

Overall grade: B-

Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: