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Campaign, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not Quite Bulworthy"
2 stars

The trouble with most political satire these days--especially of the cinematic variety--is that for it to work, it has to have some real bite to it and run the risk that it might wind up offending at least a certain portion of the potential audience in the bargain. The best examples of this genre--I offer up "Duck Soup," "The Great Dictator," "Bob Roberts" and "Bulworth" as four key titles--took lots of chances, offered up some ugly truths amidst the raucous humor and eventually paid the price for their audacity with grim results at the box office, though the first two have gone on to become regarded as comedy classics. For the most part,, however, filmmakers dabbling in this genre have a maddening tendency to pull their punches or let their characters (and audiences) off the hook by making sure that they poke equal fun at both sides in order to show that they are all essentially the same and/or insinuating that the problems with system are the result of a few bad apples and can easily be remedied with a noble-but-lame final act speech that makes the final 10 minutes of Russ Meyer's "Vixen" (which contained all the socially relevant material that kept the film from being censored and signaled to the pervs in the audience that the Good Parts were over) seem profound and well-reasoned by comparison.

I don't know why but I went into "The Campaign" thinking that it might be one of the rare ones that gleefully went for the jugular in regards to our mess of a political process but aside from a few stray moments here and there, it has all the bite of a Jay Leno routine, albeit one of a somewhat bluer nature than usual. Actually, that isn't completely accurate because there are a number of funny bits and pieces scattered throughout but they never pull together into the kind of outrageous barn-burner that it wants to be. Watching it is kind of like watching an 85-minute trailer for itself--it sounds interesting and it has a of hilarious moments but when it is all over, you still have a hankering to see a real movie with a real point and not just a collection of scenes that seem to have been slapped together almost at random in some points and with an edict to offend as few people along the way as possible.

Will Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, a glad-handing dope who is the four-term Democratic congressman from a small district in North Carolina whose success at the polls can be attributed less to his keen political instincts than in the fact that he has been running unopposed. On the campaign trail, with his plasticized trophy wife () and two picture-perfect kids by his side, he endlessly proclaims himself to be for "America, Jesus, Freedom" and that whatever special interest group he is addressing that day is indeed the backbone of this fine country. However, when Cam becomes embroiled in a sex scandal involving a bimbo and an obscene phone message left on the wrong answering machine, the Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), a pair of billionaire brothers who pour millions of dollars into super-PAC's in order to elect candidates who will then do their bidding and who stretch the film's end credits claim about the whole thing being fictional and not inspired by any real people living or dead, see an opportunity and decide to surreptitiously finance a Republican challenger that will defeat Cam as part of a nefarious scheme to generate obscene profits for themselves. All they need is an easily malleable dupe and they seem to have found one in Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the sweet-natured, sweater vest-clad black sheep of a political family who has been eking out a happy small town life with his wife and family while heading up the local tourist bureau.

Needless to say, Cam is outraged that someone would have the audacity to throw a wrench in his chances for reelection by having the temerity to run against him and he, with the aid of his campaign manager (Jason Sudekis), vow to destroy Marty and very nearly do right at the start with an invitation to a "civility brunch" that turns into an ambush on the newcomer which even suggests that his two pugs may have communist leanings. This bruising introduction to the campaign scene so thoroughly unnerves Marty that he is almost ready to drop out until the Motches send him a ferocious campaign manager of his own (Dylan McDermott) who rearranges every aspect of his life--everything from his pets to home furnishings to his wife's hairstyle--according to the response of focus groups while encouraging him to fight fire with fire. From then on, the campaign becomes a free-for-all in which each one dives deeper into the muck in order to one-up the other and nothing--not the sanctity of marriage, nor the Lord's prayer nor one of the most beloved celebrities of our age--comes out unscathed in their quest for victory.

The good news about "The Campaign" is that unlike so many other recent comedies--especially ones featuring the likes of Ferrell and Galiafianakis--that feel as though the filmmakers simply turned on the cameras and allowed the stars to riff at endless length about whatever pops into their heads, it actually feels as though someone sat and actually wrote the thing. The bad news, however, is that also feels as if it went through only a draft or two before being rushed into production and that there simply wasn't enough time to pull it together into a cohesive whole or to come up with anything that it wants to say. One would think that the utterly ridiculous nature of the current electoral process, regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum, could inspire any number of hilariously inspired observations but other than a few trenchant jabs, neither the screenplay nor director Jay Roach seem particularly eager to do anything that might make people uncomfortable. In other words, this is exactly the kind of trenchant political satire that one might expect from the auteur of "Austin Powers" and "Meet the Parents," not to mention the fairly toothless real-life political narratives "Recount" and "Game Change."

For example, instead of taking realistic shots at how modern campaigns are executed and how easily the truth can be bent in the name of putting a certain agenda across at all costs, we get silly ad parodies that are so far over-the-top outrageous that it beggars belief that even characters as deluded as these would consider them to be good ideas. Instead of taking shots at the media and their willingness to parrot the corporate line instead of digging deeply into what is really going on, it is treated with kid gloves so as to ensure the participation of numerous real-life TV pundits. Instead of acknowledging the fact that the one thing scarier than watching two people sell out all their principles in the name of elective office is the notion that neither of them had much in the way of core beliefs to be sold out in the first place, we get an ending in which--Spoiler Alert!--they wind up rediscovering said beliefs and. . .well, you'll see for yourself. The ending is especially irritating because there is one moment during the climax where the film could have ended that would have inspired both laughter and anger in equal measure. However, Roach and the screenwriters clearly decided that political satire was no place for actual political commentary so they quickly nullify any impact it might have had with a smarmy finale that hardly anyone will find satisfying.

"The Campaign" isn't the worst comedy that you will see this year and indeed, there are enough funny moments sprinkled throughout--not all of them ruined by the trailers for once--to make you think that it could eventually straighten itself out. However, while there are a bunch of amusing individual bits, they turn out to be nothing more than that because it lacks that final burst of inspiration that might have pulled them together into a unified whole instead of something that feels like a bunch of second-tier "SNL" skit ideas put haphazardly together. Put it this way--I have seen "The Candidate" and this film is no "The Candidate." That, you will recall, was the 1972 film featuring Robert Redford as an idealist running for office who slowly finds those ideals becoming corrupted or ignored entirely as the possibility of actually winning comes into the picture. At the end of the film, there is a famous moment where Redford, having scored a key victory, turns to his advisors and asks "What do we do now?" If only someone involved with "The Campaign" had asked that very same question--preferably during the writing stage--it might have helped make the film into something smarter and funnier than what we have been given instead.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22536&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/09/12 20:53:03
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User Comments

2/17/14 Luisa Zach and Will are insanely funny! 4 stars
9/29/12 Ronald Holst It woiuld be funny if it was not ironic 2 stars
8/29/12 matthew wood i love will ferrell and he portrays the dirty play that goes into politics 4 stars
8/20/12 Marty Some lol moments. I hate politics, and this was sometimes even dumber than politics. 2 stars
8/18/12 Alex The film went for cheap gags and profanity over a true indictment of the political process 2 stars
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  10-Aug-2012 (R)
  DVD: 30-Oct-2012


  DVD: 30-Oct-2012

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