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Entries in Campaign/The [2012] (1)


The Campaign (2012)

Dummy Poo-Poo Sillyheads

Conservatives, especially Republicans who live in the South, are idiots. They are proudly ignorant, morbidly obese, Jesus-loving gun freaks who speak as if they have severe brain damage. Worse yet, the racism, sexism, and homophobia that unites them is so absolute, it's a wonder America's first Gay Pride parade didn't spark a second Civil War.

I imagine this mantra ran like a Wall Street ticker through the minds of director Jay Roach and screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell while developing their new comedy, The Campaign. Working through actors Will Ferrell and Zack Galafianakis, this team of unhinged Hollywood liberals have perfected a gross cultural caricature that I like to call "Redneck Face".

The Redneck Face stooge is always bumbling and ignorant, falling into either the Evil Greedy Horndog or Cuddly Backwards Innocent categories. They have no dimension beyond the mental image conjured by their titles, and therefore in no way resemble anyone you're ever likely to meet.

What's the point of The Campaign? Ostensibly, it's to make people laugh, but there's something more insidious at work here. Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, a four-term Congressman from North Carolina who's set to win number five; despite a slew of sex scandals and inappropriate behavior, he has run unopposed for nearly two decades. Into his life stumbles Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), head of tourism for the small town of Hammond, who, at the behest of his well-connected father (Brian Cox), has decided to compete for the seat. Turns out dad owes a favor to the sinister billionaire Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), who want a more pliable candidate than Cam in play.

Right off the bat, the filmmakers establish their movie as a weird critique of Bush-era/Tea Party Conservatism. Ferrell modifies the George W. Bush impression that helped make him an SNL superstar (occasionally detouring into Bush Sr. territory). Aykroyd and Lithgow play a not-at-all-veiled parody of the Koch Brothers. Marty's rich daddy forces his Asian maid to speak in an exaggerated black servant accent, to "remind him of the good ol' days".  And Marty's wife, Mitzi (Sarah Baker), is an overweight Christian girl who cheats on her husband with the first stud to bat eyes at her (of course, she's secretly into really kinky sex and feels terrible about the whole thing immediately afterwards--oh, pity those repressed believers!).

My biggest issue with the film (besides it containing four good laughs in ninety minutes--six, if you count the stuff that should've been left out of the trailer) is that it feels like more of a polemic than any three Michael Moore movies; at least Moore presents viewers with things he holds as truth in a way that might (might) compel them to do some research afterwards. For Conservatives, Christians, and anyone else who takes issue with so-called "Progressive" values, this movie probably comes off as a lecture on why everyone who doesn't fall in line is a doomed idiot (a hilarious irony, for sure).

Moore is most prolific during Republican administrations--which makes sense, given his targets. The filmmakers of The Campaign seem trapped in the Bush 43 era, convinced that the icons of their ire still rule with chicken-grease-smeared fists. Had this movie come out in 2006, it still would have been unfunny and unforgivably slanted, but it at least would have had a reason to exist.

For the record, I considered myself a staunch liberal until about a year ago. I'm now a political agnostic, and it's partially propaganda like this that made me tune out. Roach, Henchy, and Harwell have created a world in which liberals don't exist in North Carolina--possibly don't exist at all, outside of the distant mainstream media who occasionally check in to make fun of local hick shenanigans. Apparently, all the unscrupulous political behavior in America can be laid at the hands of immoral Conservatives and the brain-dead, fairy-tale-reading idiots who vote for them.*

By now--assuming you've stuck with me--you're probably wondering why I've hijacked my own review to stand on a soapbox. The truth is, The Campaign leaves me with nothing to talk about besides its overt and covert themes. The story is as feather-light as the laughs, following the template of every lesser Will Ferrell/Adam Sandler comedy: buffoon starts out on top; falls from grace; learns valuable life lesson from put-upon member of the opposite sex while appearing to lose some major competition to a suave, charming asshole; bounces back at the zero hour to save the day/win the race/become the world's best wedding singer. The laughs keep these movies from being absolute Play-Doh comedies (thanks again, Bill Hicks), but the righteous insistence here that the filmmakers have Something To Say drains all the fun out of the whole thing.

Despite looking great and having a game cast, The Campaign is a cheap, ducks-in-a-barrel comedy full of mostly unlikable stereotypes** whose sole purpose is to make the target audience feel superior to the people they assume are being represented in the film. This is Amos and Andy for Limousine Liberals--which is also a generalization, but it's the only way I can describe the breed of scared, self-satisfied creature that would glom onto this picture. If you're looking for genuinely funny satire with conscience and heart, I recommend Dave and Bob Roberts. They cover similar ground, but from an adult point of view--unlike this movie, which is the cinematic equivalent of playground bullying.

*Yet, when the philandering Cam gets into a fist-fight with Huggins during a televised debate, someone makes reference to his $900 haircut--two digs at fallen Democratic VP contender John Edwards.

**Galifianakis and Jason Sudeikis play the only characters I could stand to watch for more than two minutes.