If this year's presidential campaign doesn't provide enough laughs for your liking, here is one that will.
Though the timing would be perfect, "The Campaign" isn't a satire of the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It pokes fun, instead, at the way politics has worked in America for years. "America, freedom, Jesus," Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) says at the beginning of the film. An adviser asks what on earth he means by that. "I don't know," Brady responds, "but they sure love it when say it."
And Brady is not a Republican. He's a Southern Democrat, a comfortably ensconced incumbent used to running unopposed. But when a misplaced, vulgar voicemail goes public, Brady's approval rating takes a nosedive and he suddenly becomes vulnerable. The businessmen who bankroll him -- the Motch brothers, a not-at-all-subtle version of the controversial, real-life Koch brothers -- decide to find a more solid specimen to do their bidding.
|3 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis|
|Director: Jay Roach|
|Rated: R for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity|
|Running time: 85 minutes|
They settled on the underachieving son of a politician friend, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis). Marty heads the quiet tourism board of Hammond, North Carolina. The Motch brothers dispatch a political operative to Hammond willing to do anything.
Tim Wattley (a deliciously cynical Dylan McDermott) tries to turn the effeminate Marty into a man. After Brady points out Huggins's pugs are Chinese -- "Get some American dogs, you commie!" one voter shouts at a town hall -- Wattley replaces the furry members of the Huggins family. These new pets, he tells Marty in all seriousness, are "the highest-polling dogs."
From the lack of substance in supposedly serious debates -- Brady is a master at saying absolutely nothing -- to the rise of focus-group politics, "The Campaign" smartly critiques it all. The numerous political ads are the highlight of the film -- if only our ugly politics were ugly in such an amusing way.
It's not all farce, though. One politician talks about "insourcing," getting quite a few audience laughs; maybe they haven't heard President Obama use the same word. And Marty's broom prop -- his slogan is the simple but effective "It's a mess" -- is a lot like former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan's pitchfork. But it's when director Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents") tries to "get real" that the film suffers most. An ill-advised sequence during the credits becomes a ploddingly literal attack on the Citizens United Supreme Court case. And the ending might be unsatisfying to those who hoped the filmmakers would carry through the conviction of their cynicism.
Unlike our elections, the choice here is easy to make: See "The Campaign," but just leave before the credits roll.