Politically incorrect: Jokes both crude, witty lead to entertaining campaign satire
Will Ferrell likes taking overblown stereotypes and bashing the audience over the head with them until they laugh. So after years of mocking cable newscasters, police officers, a handful of sports and NASCAR, he finally lands on American politics, and there’s plenty of material to work with.
And with Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis dueling as witless southern politicians running for Congress? Considering the cast of characters vying to represent our nation lately, these two fit right in.
“The Campaign” runs through every political scandal and cliche in the book, from sex tapes and DWIs to “hunting accidents” and illicit tweets. Ferrell and Galifianakis are well-matched leads, hurling absurd speeches, attack ads and dirty insults at one another. They’re both playing firmly in their comedic comfort zones, but the movie lands enough jokes and political jabs to balance out its predictability.
The film’s congressional race follows Cam Brady (Ferrell), the longtime incumbent in North Carolina’s 14th District. He’s a brash womanizer boasting more sex scandals than Bill Clinton and John Edwards combined, who’s been re-elected term after term by preaching “America. Jesus. Freedom.” He doesn’t know what it means but he says, “The people love it when I say it.”
After Brady’s latest public relations nightmare involving a lewd phone message, the billionaire Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), a blatant spoof of the Koch brothers, decide they need a new figurehead. They want to “insource” Chinese factories and workers to North Carolina to eliminate bothersome shipping costs.
Enter Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a local tour guide and the resident cheerful weirdo. He struts around town in knitted vests and turtlenecks followed closely by his two pugs, Poundcake and Muffins. But on the Motch brothers’ bankroll and with a shady campaign manager (Dylan McDermott), he challenges Brady and turns the race into a media circus.
Cam Brady is an amusing mix of Ferrell’s George W. Bush impersonation and Ricky Bobby from “Talladega Nights.” Sporting a feathery toupee and southern drawl, Brady dubs every constituent on the campaign trail “our nation’s backbone.” In between stops, he screws any girl who winks at him, while his thankless campaign manager, Mitch (Jason Sudeikis), runs damage control.
Ferrell is at his best with a crazy-competitive edge. Once Huggins starts gaining popularity, Brady goes off the rails. He accidentally punches both a baby and a dog — both in slow-motion sequences — botches the Lord’s Prayer and curses out a church full of people after a snakebite.
Galifianakis borrows from his “twin brother Seth” impersonation and plays an eccentric family man with devout Christian faith and more than a little metrosexual energy. Huggins is the black sheep of a prestigious southern family, and his racist father (Brian Cox) is still mad at him for “wearing Crocs to mom’s funeral.”
Speaking in a high-pitched twang, Galifianakis trades blows with Ferrell while sputtering his campaign slogan, “It’s a mess!”
The film’s message is straightforward: Politics are a joke, the candidates are hollow puppets and big business is behind it all. The film opens with a quote from former presidential candidate Ross Perot, stating: “War has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules.”
As compelling political criticism, “The Campaign” falls short. Despite an overarching cynical view of government, the simple story ends happily with the candidates realizing the error of their ways and thwarting the evil corporate big wigs. But that’s not the point — it works as a crass, raunchy mockery of everyone from Rick Santorum to Anthony Weiner.
Contact Rob: email@example.com
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