The Campaign


 

The Campaign

Zach Galifianakis isn’t sure he’s going to get the top billing Will Ferrell promised him.

(2012) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, P.J. Byrne, Sarah Baker, Karen Maruyama, Grant Goodman, Kya Haywood, Randall Cunningham. Directed by Jay Roach

 

In an American presidential election year, politics tend to move towards the shameless side. Outrageous lies and half-truths are spoken; candidates are smeared, rumors are mongered and dirty tricks are perpetrated.

In a North Carolina congressional district, Cam Brady (Ferrell) prepares to run unopposed for his fourth term in office. He’s always been more interested in being called “Congressman Brady” rather than in doing anything with the office but his popularity takes a huge hit after accidentally sending a racy voice message on the answering machine of a devout Christian family who didn’t appreciate it so much.

This brings a bit of unease to the Motch brothers (Lithgow, Aykroyd), a pair of billionaire industrialist siblings who have outsourced millions of jobs to China. However, they’ve come up with a brilliant scheme to save millions on shipping their products back to the U.S. – it’s called “insourcing” and involves having the Chinese buy huge….tracts of land…and putting up factories, then staffing them with Chinese workers who continue to make pennies an hour. To make it happen, they need a Congressman who can insure they get exemptions on the minimum wage and it doesn’t look like Brady, whose district the Motches have designs on, will have enough political capital after this latest escapade, to help them much.

The Motch brothers need a new pliable candidate, one they can control and they think they’ve found one in Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) who is a somewhat simple and somewhat effeminate tour guide operator in the county whose father (Cox) is the oily, rattlesnake-mean former campaign manager for Jesse Helms. Marty, who’s always wanted to run for office, wants to make his daddy proud. Daddy wants Marty not to embarrass him. And Marty’s brother Clay (Goodman) just wants to tickle Marty because Marty’s bowels tend to void when tickled.

Marty’s kind of a shlub but that all changes with the arrival of Tim Wattley (McDermott), a snake oil-slick campaign manager who proceeds to do a life makeover on the new candidate, much to the chagrin of Mitzi (Baker), Marty’s timid BBW of a wife.

Thus the campaign ensues, with each candidate smearing the other through attack ads, debates and innuendo. Things start to get messy; Cam’s hot but ambitious wife (LaNasa) moves out when it looks like Marty might win; Cam accidentally slugs a baby in the jaw with a closed fist.

However, when Marty finds out what the Motch Brothers, in collusion with his father, are up to, he grows himself a pair and stands up to them. This leads to Tim moving over to Cam’s moribund campaign…and resurrecting it. But which one of these two knuckleheads will win out in the end?

This is meant to be political satire which I suppose circa century 21 makes some sense. Still, when I think of political satire I think of classics like, for example, Dr. Strangelove. This doesn’t measure up to that nor should you go in expecting that it would.

This is more or less an Apatow-esque comedy masquerading as political satire. While the identity of the Motch brothers isn’t fooling anyone (Koch brothers anyone?) and Cam Baker shares some DNA with John Edwards, the movie studiously tries to avoid party mudslinging on the surface by making the Democrat (Brady) as objectionable as the Republican (Huggins). The reality though is that they’re both essentially Republicans – and the joke is that there really isn’t much of a difference between them, even to them both finding out they are good-hearted in the end (not that it’s much of a spoiler).

Ferrell has played this character dozens of times, a combination of Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby and George Bush. For Galifianakis, this is a character not unlike the one he played in Due Date. It’s not a bad mix, the two of them – but it ends up with a kind of Frank Capra-esque ending that belies the cynical tone most of the rest of the movie takes.

I could have used a bit more laugh-out-loud sequences, although there are a few moments which got me chortling but to me the movie seemed on the bland side and never really had the courage of its own convictions. Trying not to alienate the electorate? Don’t make a political satire then.

REASONS TO GO: Satirizes the current American political process without getting too party-specific.

REASONS TO STAY: Not nearly as funny as it should be. A bit more cynical than some might like.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of crude sexual content, a bit of nudity, some semi-foul language and a bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Aykroyd plays a wealthy brother like the type he bested in Trading Places. Life imitating art?

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/14/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100. The reviews are mixed but trending towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Primary Colors

EASTBOUND AND DOWN LOVERS: Shawn Harwell, one of the co-writers of the movie, also is a writer for the quirky cable series.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Jack and Jill

The Ides of March


The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling tries to remember his line.

(2011) Political Drama (Columbia) Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella, Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell, Charlie Rose. Directed by George Clooney

Politics make strange bedfellows for just about anything. Few human endeavors employ more of the worst elements of human nature while trying to appeal to the best. It is a machine that chews up and spits out those who don’t have the stomach for being an absolute prick.

Stephen Meyers (Gosling) hasn’t been chewed up or spit out – and he’s as good a media relations specialist as there is in the business. He’s been on plenty of campaigns in his time but none have captured him like the Presidential campaign of Democratic hopeful Mike Morris (Clooney), governor of the great state of Pennsylvania.

They are in the midst of the Ohio primaries and coming down to the wire. The Democratic nomination hangs in the balance and so far, Morris is leading Senator Pullman (Mantell) by a slight margin. Morris’ campaign manager Paul Zara (Hoffman) is romancing Senator Thompson (Wright) who has over three hundred delegates that will all but assure the nomination. Reporter Ida Horowicz (Tomei) is leaning on Stephen for a story but he doesn’t have one to give her – yet.

Then Stephen gets a phone call from Tom Duffy (Giamatti), the campaign manager for Pullman. Duffy wants Stephen to jump ship and even lets him know that Pullman has Thompson in his camp after promising Thompson the secretary of state position in the new administration. Furthermore, Duffy is trying to get Republicans and Independents to vote for Pullman in the open primary election since the general political trend is that the Republicans have a better chance against Pullman than they do against Morris.

Stephen is distraught but he chooses not to tell Paul at first. When he does, the crap hits the fan. Suddenly the campaign is in the middle of a dogfight and they might not necessarily be the stronger dog in the fight. An attractive young campaign worker, Molly Stearns (Wood) who is also the daughter of the bulldog-like Democratic National Committee chairman (Itzin) may prove to be the key that will either save Morris’ presidential chances – or destroy them.

Clooney, who has several really fine directing jobs under his belt, adds another one here. Based on the stage play “Farragut North” by Beau Wilimon (which in itself was loosely based on the author’s experiences in the 2004 campaign of Howard Dean), the movie has a sense of realism. All the dirty tricks, all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, that fits in with the perception of most people as to what really goes on in a major campaign.

Gosling has had quite a year with appearances in Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love and giving fine performances in both. He is to my mind a star who has shown potential for years (he already has one Oscar nomination under his belt) and has finally arrived as a legitimate star. He hasn’t shown any desire to headline a big franchise-type film, preferring lesser-budgeted dramas and comedies to ply his trade in, but I don’t doubt he could do that and just as well as anybody.

Hoffman and Giamatti are two of the best actors in the business and they play disparate sides of the same coin; one a shark, willing to do anything to win and the other valuing loyalty above all else maybe to his own detriment. Clooney has a supporting role here (as he did in Good Night and Good Luck) but it’s a memorable one. Like Martin Sheen’s Josiah Bartlett, one wishes there was a candidate out there like Mike Morris. Clooney brings him to life and, surprisingly, gives him a bit of a dark side.

While I found the character a bit more naive than you’d think a media relations manager in a major presidential campaign would be, my main beef with the film is the pacing seems a bit lax. The movie unfolds in an almost nonchalant manner which can be frustrating at times.

There are those who are going to have problems with The Ides of March because those who might have conservative political beliefs may find the depiction of the Democrats as disturbing, even though they are shown to be corrupt in the end. There are others who are going to be a bit put off as well because this is a pretty smart motion picture which requires at least a little bit of intellectual commitment. Those looking to lose themselves in a mindless haze are probably better served to look elsewhere.

REASONS TO GO: Nice thinking person’s political drama with a good sense of realism as to how the political process works. Terrific performances by the ensemble.

REASONS TO STAY: Unfolds at a rather slow pace. Might require too much thought for some. Although it does portray the liberal Democrats as corrupt, Conservatives might not like this either.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence, some terror, a little sensuality and briefly some bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the campaign office are posters of Governor Morris that are much like the iconic Hope posters for the Obama campaign created by street artist Shepard Fairey. In fact, the original photo that the Obama posters were based on were of Obama listening to George Clooney speak at a 2006 press conference.

HOME OR THEATER: You won’t lose anything by waiting for it to come out on home video.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Saw VI