Arts and Culture

'The Campaign'

Hollywood elects to satirize the long road to the Frat House, er, White House.

By Steve Burgess 10 Aug 2012 |

Steve Burgess writes about film, culture, travel, whatever he's "into" every other week.

It's the cry of the outraged whenever some joker exploits a tragedy: "Too soon!" There's a waiting period, tradition has it, before you can crack wise about brutal, horrible, and depressing realities. Considering the brutal, horrible, and depressing reality of U.S. politics perhaps such cries will greet the new Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis comedy The Campaign. Unlikely. More like, "What took you so long?" The pathetic dog-and-pony show that constitutes U.S. democracy is long overdue for a good skewering. No, the legitimate complaint about The Campaign isn't "Too soon!" It's "Too soft!"

The Campaign tells the sordid tale of oily congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell), running for reelection unopposed in North Carolina. We're told Brady is a Democrat but really Ferrell is playing a hornier version of George W. Bush. One day the congressman misdials while calling his latest campaign groupie and leaves an exceedingly lewd message on the answering machine of a good Christian family. Later he tries to counter-attack: "Who still has answering machines anyway?" But he's damaged goods. Industrial kingpins the Koch -- er, Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide to back a challenger who will help them institute their nefarious plans to sell the entire congressional district to China. For reasons never really explained that candidate is sweet, ineffectual goofball tour guide Marty Huggins (Gaifianakis). As a candidate his biggest problem is a distinct resemblance to characters often played by Zach Galifianakis. The brothers Motch dispatch campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to toughen up their would-be congressman. Lo and behold Huggins is soon the kind of polished pol who can proclaim his fierce love for "the greatest American who ever lived: Jesus Christ."

Beyond satire?

There's plenty of low-hanging fruit here and The Campaign feasts on some. The packaging, the posturing, the sheer batty irrelevance of most of what passes for debate is reliably mocked (although Province cartoonist Dan Murphy ought to get a screen credit for a campaign ad that connects Huggins' facial hair to Osama Bin Laden's. Murphy did that gag about Hitler, Stalin, and Glen Clark years ago.)

The Campaign strives to be non-partisan by making sleazy Ferrell the Democrat. But in fact both of these candidates are Republican caricatures. Not that Democrats aren't perfectly capable of hypocrisy. But it's the GOP who have truly mastered the kind of religious dog-whistling and ignorant pandering that The Campaign frequently sends up.

At times the movie really does get its finger on the bizarre nature of modern political discourse. A debate in which an outraged Huggins brandishes a seventh grade school project written by Brady -- about "Rainbow Land" where "everything is free" -- was surely inspired by 2008 GOP attacks on Barack Obama for having the effrontery to proclaim he wanted to be president at age eight. Soon, spittle-flecked Huggins supporters are screaming defiance to the gay socialist paradise of Rainbow Land. If you've been watching enough campaigns that will seem just about right.

With material like that...

Alas, The Campaign fritters away a lot of its potential. Director Jay Roach of the Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers franchises knows he's not making an episode of The Thick of It or Veep -- he's making a Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis vehicle. Thus some plot developments have more in common with frat boy comedies than political satire. The occasional arrival of a tinkling piano score signals attempts at poignancy, which in this context seem ludicrous. And the ending is such an appalling attempt at feel-goodism that you will wait in vain for the other shoe to drop. But no -- a movie intended to parody the unctuous platitudes of Washington politicians wraps up with a typical display of Hollywood horseshit. That's how they do it in L.A., boys.

Say this for The Campaign though -- it is the only movie in which you can see Uggie, the cutesy dog from The Artist, get punched in the head. For me, that's almost enough. And if you don't like the bad jokes in this campaign, at least there's no danger you'll be stuck with them for four years.  [Tyee]

Read more: Film

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Get The Tyee in your inbox


The Barometer

Has the IPCC climate change report made you :

Take this week's poll