Thursday, August 9, 2012
Here’s a new twist. Picture a Republican politician with humanitarian ethics. Now imagine said unicorn in the corporeal being of Zach Galifianakis, making the most of every effeminate gesture he can muster as small town family man Marty Huggins. Marty likes to wear turtleneck shirts and patterned sweaters as he conducts guided bus-tours around town to an audience of one – a kooky old lady with a crush on him. When long-term North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) shoots his fourth re-election bid in the foot by leaving a dirty phone message for his latest slut-conquest on the family phone machine, Marty Huggins gets the call to run against the dead-duck candidate. Marty’s dad Wade (Brian Cox) is an old-money Southern patriarch who doesn’t care for Marty’s less than manly qualities. Nevertheless, Wade sends his approval-hungry son into the fray of mud-slinging politics.
The parody extends to the endless platitudes Americans are about to be inundated with during the 2012 election. Cam Brady is a photo-op addict espousing a fill-in-the-blank policy platform and represents “this nation’s backbone.”
You couldn’t really call the slapstick shenanigans that transpire between political rivals Cam and Marty high comedy, but plenty of contagious laughs follow just the same. Ferrell’s and Galifianakis’s physical differences alone are enough to make you grin. Their awkward chemistry is a powder keg, one that only comic fireworks can resolve. It doesn’t hurt that both characters are as simple-minded as Scarlett O’Hara – it is the South after all.
A quote from Ross Perot sets the tone: “War has rules, mud-wrestling has rules – politics has no rules.”
The Campaign makes fun of ethical missteps that American politicians from both sides of the aisle seem unable to stop making. Drunk driving, tweeting nude photos and public-speaking gaffes make for easy comic pickings here. In the case of Cam’s DUI arrest, how he got inebriated in Marty’s company is germane to the hilarity of the situation.
Although the filmmakers mask the greedy conservative targets of their satire, they let a few cards show. Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow play the Motch brothers, a pair of billionaire string-pullers clearly patterned after the notoriously malevolent Koch brothers whose behind-the-scene tactics of political manipulation are examined in Robert Greenwald’s well-received documentary Koch Brothers Exposed. The Motch brothers bring in their secret-campaign-weapon Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to make over, prep and supervise Marty’s run for congressman. The top-to-bottom transformation necessarily means that Marty’s beloved pair of Pugs must be switched out for more “domestic” dogs. No Chinese canines are allowed in this white-bread part of the country, at least not as the pets of a right-wing candidate. McDermott’s shadowy character represents an undercover black-ops methodology of cutthroat politics that Americans take for granted.
Character-actor Karen Maruyama steals scenes in a delightfully effective sub-plot supporting role as big daddy Wade’s housekeeper Mrs. Yao. Under Wade’s openly racist insistence, Mrs. Yao speaks in a slang-riddled old Southern accent when she replies to her “masser.” Mrs. Yao knowingly skewers her put-on accent with knee-thick sarcasm that drips like molasses in 110-degree heat. It’s a sub-plot device that would fail in most comedies, but inexplicably works like a charm here. Folks “did used to talk real stupid” – some still do – in that part of the country where the Confederate flag still files.
Director Jay Roach (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) dovetails escalating zingers, as when Cam Brady habitually misses punching Marty in public, only to connect with things better left unspoken. The situational humor goes gloriously blue before settling on a calming theme of social responsibility, the likes of which America hasn’t seen in years. There’s more to The Campaign than just a big old bag of funky, witty satire – but it is that, too.
THE CAMPAIGN (3) • Directed by Jay Roach • Starring Zach Galifianakis, Will Farrell, Dylan McDermott, Dan Aykroyd, John Lithgow, Brian Cox • Rated R • 85 min. • At Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Century Cinemas Del Monte Center.