Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Review: "The Campaign"
"The Candidate" really slows down in its last half-hour or so, as this raunchy, no-holds-barred take on modern politics pulls up its pants, gets a little serious and tries to say Something Important. But the first hour or so is loose and carefree, and is as gut-bustingly funny as anything I've seen in awhile.
Call it two-thirds of the funniest movie of the year.
There's one scene that nearly made me cough up a lung. Marty Huggins, the prissy Christian family man played by Zach Galifianakis, is telling his clan the sort of scrutiny they can expect now that he's running for Congress. He asks them to lay any embarrassing secrets out on the dinner table so they can confront them. The two cherubic young boys and his prim wife proceed to lay out a litany of scatological transgressions that would have Dante warming up his inferno.
His opponent, four-term incumbent Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), gets into plenty of his own hilarious escapades. One involves babies, and in his zeal to beat out Marty to lay some kisses on them in the time-honored political tradition, he ends up ... well, kind of the opposite of kissing the baby.
Much of the humor is over-the-top and zany, and bears no relation to even the worst antics we've seen in this or any election cycle. (Thought Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got pretty close with his line, "He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain.")
Later on, though, things go from crazy-funny to crazy-implausible -- such as when one candidate shoots another during a hunting "accident," or another seduces his opponent's wife, tapes it, and uses the footage as the basis for a campaign ad. In both instances, their poll numbers go up.
These moments pierce the bubble of carefully cultivated disbelief, and the movie just becomes one big goof job.
Finally, there's the schmaltzy finale, in which we're asked to believe that one candidate would take an action that has never been performed in the history of politics, and probably isn't even legal. Also, oddly, that both campaigns would share the same hall for their victory parties. All to set up a big moment where things get tender and teary.
You can practically hear the windbag gas escaping.
Director Jay Roach and screenwriters Chris Hency and Shawn Harwell are careful to keep the political barbs nonpartisan, or more accurately multi-partisan: everybody comes off looking bad.
In a bit of a switch, it's the Democrat Brady who's a boozing, corrupt tool of the big corporations, represented by the not-even-slightly subtle duo of super-rich brothers named Motch. They're played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, and their presence mostly serves to remind us that Aykroyd is now old enough to play the aged evil tycoons he battled in "Trading Places."
Huggins, meanwhile, is the humble do-gooder who's chosen to run as a patsy, and even has to take lessons on how to appear more manly from his appointed svengali, played by Dylan McDermott. With his Cheetos mustache and slightly swishy manner, Galifianakis paints a complex comedic portrait of a man who doesn't really fit into any neat box.
Ferrell, meanwhile, is mostly doing a takeoff on his caricature of George W. Bush, with a thick coating of North Carolina molasses. Think of a DNA splicing of John Edwards and Sean Hannity. (His motto: "America. Jesus. Freedom.")
"The Campaign" is definitely worth a ticket, though be forewarned the language and sexual terminology is about as nasty as you can get without an NC-17 rating. Keep the little ones at home, and keep your expectations low for the last act, and you'll have a good time.
3 stars out of four