Made in America – The Campaign review

The Campaign – Starring Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, and Dylan McDermott. Directed by Jay Roach. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

No one’s ever going to accuse a movie in which a character goes by the nickname of “ticklesh**s” of being particularly witty, but it takes a special kind of genius to deploy lowbrow humour in the service of scathing political commentary. In Jay Roach’s The Campaign, two North Carolinian democrats scramble over a seat in Congress, oblivious that the strings of the election are being pulled by a wealthy, nefarious Super PAC. The mud-slinging escalates to outrageous heights, with sex tapes, gunshot wounds, a children’s book about an all-inclusive paradise called “Rainbow Land” (or is it a communist manifesto?), and even everyone’s favourite Jack Russell Terrier, Uggie, used as devastating weapons in each candidate’s arsenal. Will Ferrell’s Cam Brady and Zach Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins come to blows on multiple occasions, and despite the operatic ridiculousness of the whole thing, it feels like only a slight exaggeration of real-life politics. Sure, The Campaign may be reality switched to ’11′, but the ongoing battles between Obama and Romney, Gillard and Abbott, common-sense and madness, and most significantly, issues and irrelevancies, are already amped up to ’10′.

Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) returns to form following the execrable, talent-squandering Dinner for Schmucks. Having recently helmed two excellent political dramas for HBO (Recount, concerning the 2000 debacle in Florida, and Game Change, depicting Sarah Palin’s selection for Republican V.P. nominee), he must be relieved to use his swift, astute storytelling talents on a fake, less depressing, albeit only slightly sillier scenario. At a brisk 85 minutes, The Campaign covers a lot of ground and delivers a steady stream of gags before making a quick exit. Celebrating its brevity should not be seen as a backhanded compliment. Fact is, we now live in an age where Michael Bay requires two and a half hours to tell the tale of robots punching one another. The shorter, the sweeter.

Cam Brady is a mixture of the lady-killing Bill Clinton and the impervious-to-logic George W. Bush (who Ferrell memorably mocked on SNL throughout the former President’s tenure). He’s held his seat uncontested for eight years, running on a platform of “America, Jesus, and Freedom.” His popularity begins to wane when just one of his many, many extramarital exploits is unveiled, forcing Washington Kingmakers Glenn (John Lithgow) and Wade (Dan Aykroyd) Motch to consider Marty Huggins, son of super-rich local Raymond (Brian Cox), as a malleable successor. In a Trading Places inspired move, the Motches position the kindly, effete, idealistic oddball Marty to be their patsy, so they might build a series of Chinese sweatshops in his district (think of how much they’ll save on shipping!). Shadowy campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) rides into town and strips Marty down; rebuilding him as a genuine threat to the incumbent, eradicating from him all morality, and ensuring that Marty agrees all’s fair in love and American politics.

Galifianakis and Ferrell make for appealing adversaries, and they’ve got wonderful comic performers by their side, especially Jason Sudeikis as Brady’s long-suffering adviser, Sarah Baker as Marty’s wife, and, surprisingly, the black-clad McDermott. It never quite reaches the heights of the U.K’s televisual equivalent, The Thick of It, or its film spin-off In the Loop, but British sensibilities are far different from American ones. Everything’s bigger in the U.S. of A., even satire. Screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell tap into the States’ fear of communism, their general fear of ‘the other’, as well as their fear of ever having their masculinity and reputation questioned. When translated into broad comedy, you get an indignant dunderhead outraged by the prospect of competing with a mincing, fair-minded weirdo for a seat he never deserved in the first place. The Campaign has plenty of dumb laughs, but that doesn’t make it dumb.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Campaign is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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