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The Campaign Is Funny Fare for This Season — and Surprisingly Fair

The characters' personalities are drawn so that the audience roots for the underdog family-guy Republican over the incumbent womanizing Democrat.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

August 10, 2012 - 3:29 pm
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With the not-so-subtle timing of its theatrical release, would The Campaign pick Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for president?

Actually, if you went by the strongest political theme in the surprisingly bipartisan script, this movie would cast its ticket in favor of a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent who comes ready with every catchphrase in the book about cleaning up Washington: former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.

After all, the villains in this tale are a pair of bankrolling Motch Brothers (subtle, eh?), played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, who hatch a cockamamie plan to get a pet candidate into Congress so they can “insource” Chinese sweatshops into a rural North Carolina district.

But for being directed and produced by Jay Roach, who also made the HBO movie Game Change, the mega-happy ending (as Wayne’s World would call it) doesn’t favor the side you might expect it would. In fact, the film takes great pains to keep both sides of the aisle in the theater seats, as it’s one thing to show a message movie on pay cable and quite another to compete for summertime crowds at the box office.

The cameos, however, are like a who’s who of MSNBC primetime, with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer as the moderate anchor (in a rather funny performance, considering the “stories” he deadpan reports) and Dennis Miller coming from the right. (Missing: politician cameos, even as small as John McCain in Wedding Crashers or as plenty as in Dave.) Instead of blatant hyperpartisan digs at either side, the script puts Hangover-style humor first, mocking recent political incidents second, and any political message further down the line.

From the previews, I expected a send-up of the Christine O’Donnell vs. Mike Castle or Joe Miller vs. Lisa Murkowski races. Instead, it was more along the lines of a folksy Tea Partier (implied, but not implicitly stated or inferred by any Gadsden flags or “mama grizzly” lines) vs. John Edwards-meets-Anthony Weiner.

Rep. Cam Brady (D-N.C.), played by Will Ferrell, begins by repeating his mantra for a standard campaign stump: “America, Jesus, freedom.”

“What does that even mean?” the Democrat says. “Shit, I don’t know.”

Brady pays $900 for a haircut and texts photos of his pubic hair to his groupie mistress. He kisses up to voter constituencies by telling each one that they alone are THE backbone of the nation. He’s a lush with a potty mouth, temper issues, and the morals of a peanut. And, coincidentally, he’s mentioned as a possible pick someday for vice president.

Marty Huggins (Zach Galfianakis), a small-town tour guide in fair-isle cardigans with little to recommend him other than a powerful dad, is hand-picked by the Motch Bros. to be a Republican challenger to Brady, who expects that, as usual, he won’t face any challengers at all — but whose favorability ratings become vulnerable when he accidentally leaves a racy message for the mistress du jour on a churchgoing family’s answering machine.

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