Movie Review: Mr. Ferrell goes to Washington in ‘The Campaign’

Mitt Romney abandons people to die of cancer. Barak Obama has sent billions of stimulus money overseas.

Had enough yet?

It’s worse in the fictional North Carolina district in The Campaign. Cam Brady punches babies, but on the other hand, Marty Huggins lets people sleep with his wife.

That’s what a country boy calls lower than a tick on the belly of a blood hound.

If there’s one thing needed by a country staring down the barrel of thirteen more weeks of election campaigning, it’s a movie that mocks the entire concept.

The Campaign is that movie,  but under the extreme behavior is an optimistic and pure-hearted quest to remind lawmakers why they ran in the first place.

Ferrell plays Brady, a sitting member of the US House of Representatives from North Carolina. Brady is pretty much what would happen if Ricky Bobby and Ron Burgundy had a son, and that son won a seat in Congress. Southern in accent and tastes, focused on his hair more than on his platform, and slicker than sow in a tar pit, he gives lip service to his lovely wife and family, his country, and Jesus. Behind the scenes, he’s just a guy with a hot mistress, a desperate need to keep his seat, and not much else on his mind.

Brady is unopposed until he makes the mother of all campaign errors: Recording a sexy message to his mistress and then mistakenly sending it out to his district as a campaign robocall. Local kingmakers enlist the square, loser son of a local bigwig to run against him.

Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) has a fat wife, two chubby sons, two pudgy pug dogs, and a fanatical desire to please his father.

He’s totally in.

The race becomes a battle between a hapless innocent and a jaded incumbent. However, the movie plays against type as Huggins becomes the one to be seduced by what politicans call special interests while Brady is surprised to find he just may care about the people after all.

In the meantime, the two run the most ridiculous and nastiest of nasty campaigns. Baby punching is only the beginning.

It’s a lot of fun to watch these over the top antics. Especially silly is a campaign tactic in which Brady defends his infidelity with an ad that says “Look at her, she’s hot. Anyone would do the same.” Apparently it polls through the roof with men but not so much with women.

In the first few scenes of the Southern setting of the film, the unsettling feeling sets in that the movie is mocking Southern, conservative Christians. But, like The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the movie can find humor in its Southern setting without being offensive about it. It mocks politicians that play homage to “America. Jesus. Freedom” without being able to recite the Lord’s Prayer, but not the actual faithful themselves. While it has a lot to say about Southern politicians, it treats Southern people affectionately.

More troubling is the concept that businessmen are evil overlords running the system. Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow play the two Motch brothers, businessmen tired of shipping their jobs to China. They’d rather ship China to the US, open up sweat factories, evade labor laws, and make a little slice of cheap product heaven in North Carolina.

Thinly – or not even so thinly – veiled references to the Koch brothers, the Motch brothers pump secret money into the system, buying any politician that will make the EPA look the other way and the DOL pretend not to notice anything.

This is the latest boogieman in politics and the “get the dirty money out of politics” message will be received well by both the Occupy Wall Street left and the Tea Party right.

We all know, or should know, it’s not that simple. A Congressman doesn’t have the power to block the EPA, for example. The screenwriters would have been well-served to hire an eight grade civics teacher to scan the script. As a comedy it works. But don’t watch it before taking your AP US Government exam. You would surely flunk. As a public service, I’ve listed the top five electoral errors in the film.

The core, however, of both Brady and Huggins is a desire to make life better for the people of their district. That desire may be buried under self-interest or expressed in strange and semi-legal ways, but it pulses in each heart. It is what makes the core of the movie almost corny. As in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, there is a lot corruption to avoid, but the underlying act of serving one’s country is noble.

They’re practically the same movie, if you take out the baby punching, sexual content, and R-rated language.

 

Rated R for crude sexual content, language, and brief nudity. About the same level as other Will Ferrell movies, which is to say it earns its R.

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey


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