‘The Campaign’ Review
Will Rogers is said to have said that “a fool and his money are soon elected.” That was so 20th century. Were he around today he’d know to say “a fool and SOMEONE ELSE’S money are soon elected.”
Perfectly timed for this November’s battle at the ballot box, ‘The Campaign‘ is a much needed jaundiced look at all that is wrong with the current brand of American democracy. It is the third fast-paced film about modern politics, after ‘Recount’ and ‘Game Change,’ from director Jay Roach. When the YouTube mashup artists get their hands on all the material, there will be many stretches where it will be impossible to tell which of the three films is fictional.
Despite its satirical bent, ‘The Campaign’ is, firstly, a broad comedy with two dynamos at the top of their form. Will Ferrell is back doing his blustering, selfish stuffed shirt in a $900 haircut routine. Basically, Ron Burgundy kissing babies.
His character, the incumbent, multi-term opponent-free Congressman Cam Brady, is a wonderful repudiation of meaningless sound-bytes. “America, Jesus, Freedom,” he blurts with logorrheic repetition, caring not a whit for what he’s saying. His penchant for extra-marital dalliances, alas, have caught up with him and now his numbers have plummeted.
As such, the mysterious, marionette string pulling Motch Brothers (played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow and meant very much to remind you of the actual, agenda-pushing Koch Brothers) realize they need a new stooge in this particular North Carolina district. Since Brady is a democrat, they put a call in to Good Ol’ Boy Brian Cox, who, if memory serves, has a son.
The son is Zach Galifianakis in a variation of his “twin brother Seth” character — a swishy, clueless dolt who switches from timid to unjustified bravado with no seeming cause. Soon he’s announcing his candidacy and the slick, shadowy campaign advisor (Dylan McDermott) is throwing away his wife’s owl knick-knacks and teaching him how to sound more like Burt Reynolds.
Galifianakis is, ostensibly, the good guy, if only because we see him as a kind doofus with twin pugs, a love of Twinkies and an enthusiasm for home town spirit. It is to the film’s credit, however, that our love for him is occasionally challenged: he is a numbskull, completely undeserving of a seat in public office, and any rooting we do for him is a swift reminder of just how absurd our political system is.
The campaigns in ‘The Campaign’ lean hard on this absurdity, reaching surreal levels in their televised attack ads. Sadly, to anyone who has ever watched television in a battleground state like Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania or Florida, they aren’t THAT different from the real thing.
This kind of humor, for me anyway, acts as a nice steam release for pent-up frustration. I seriously think that, were it not for ‘The Daily Show’ and ‘The Colbert Report,’ I would have had a stroke by now. Unfortunately, the last chunk of ‘The Campaign’ gets a little bit maudlin and loses much of the bite found through much of the film. Still, the riotous (and rioting) moments during the town hall debates are enough to keep my approval rating of ‘The Campaign’ up.
Importantly, this isn’t only a satire. It’s a Will Ferrell movie. There are tangents into the ridiculous and the foulmouthed that ought to amuse even those audience members who festoon their homes with bunting and think anyone who speaks sarcastically about our country is a communist/atheist/terrorist/Frenchman. There’s a running gag with Brian Cox’s maid (that only a genuine jerk would spoil) that is as funny, and as quotable, as anything from ‘Old School’ or ‘Step Brothers.’
There’s a slight possibility this is the film that gets guys is bars running lines as well as questioning the Citizens United decision.
‘The Campaign’ hits theaters Friday, August 10th.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.