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.

Embarrassing Truth: 5 Basic Things about Elections the Movie ‘Campaign’ Got Wrong

There’s a lot to love about the Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis movie about dueling political candidates The Campaign (review here). It’s funny. It’s timely. It has Will Ferrell, who would be hilarious on the side of a milk carton.

But would it have killed them to hire an actual political staffer to tell them how the system works? Or, for that matter, an eighth grade civics teacher?

Here are five things about our glorious, Constitutionally-dictated, freedom-loving governmental system the movie got wrong. Be warned, in exercising the First Amendment right to Free Speech, we do reveal some spoilers.

1) Becoming a Candidate 

The Problem: Just as it seems incumbent Cam Brady (Ferrell) will run unopposed and be the only name on the ballot, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) marches into a courtroom and submits paperwork and a birth certificate (take that, Obama!) to become a candidate for US Congress.

The Reality: Laws vary widely from state to state, but it’s never that easy. Often there’s a rigorous schedule of filing dates, fees, disclosure requirements, and signature collections to be on the ballot. In fact, one sitting congressman, Thad McCotter, missed getting on November’s ballot due to failure to collect enough valid signatures. Ha ha. Bet he feels stupid. Otherwise, your weird cousin,  that guy who’s passionate about ferrets, and Misty May-Treanor would be on the ballot, not to mention Justin Bieber. It would be a thousand names long and we’d still have no good options. (Although I’d entertain May-Treanor, depending on her position on ferrets.)

2) Congressmen and Women Don’t Work

The Problem: In the movie, Cam Brady admits to his constituents that he mostly spends time playing “Angry Birds” and “Draw Something” in his Congressional office.

The Reality: We’re all mad at our elected officials and like to embrace this image, but it’s not true. There are exceptions, Congressional backwaters where crickets chirp, but most Congressmen, Congresswomen, and Senators work long hours. In addition to voting multiple times a day, which requires preparation to know how one will vote, they hold hearings, talk to the press, strategize, meet with constituents, advance their own agendas, sponsor legislation, co-sponsor legislation, then fly home weekly to meet with constituents and raise money. Sure, some find time to Tweet pictures of themselves in compromising positions or skim some money off the top, but the vast majority work like dogs. In fact, the problem may be that they’re working too little bit too much. We have new laws and big ideas coming out our ears with little to show for it.

3) Members of Congress can Unilaterally Suspend Workforce Laws and EPA Requirements in their Districts

The Problem: Sinister forces behind both candidates (hint: Rhymes with “Koch Brothers”) want their man in place so he can suspend workforce labor laws, nullify EPA requirements, import foreign workers, and turn the district into a little slice of China.

The Reality: He’s a Congressman, not Emperor. Ever heard of checks and balances, boys? Members of Congress have one power and one power only: voting on legislation. Sure, they can make a stink and request favors, but demand the EPA look the other way? Yeah. Not gonna happen.

4) Elections are Easy to Steal

The Problem: A single shot in the movie implies that the makers of the voting machine stuffed the virtual ballot box.

The Reality: Good news! Elections are harder to steal than you thought. Bad news! That’s because no one trusts the other party any more than a judge trusts a Lohan. You may be able to cheat voting for American Idol, but each and every election delegates hordes of volunteers to watch election officials like Twihards watching Kristen Stewart, only more angrily. It’s not that no one tries to pull hanky panky, it’s that there are as many rabid, crazed people watching for fraud and calling foul as there are attempts to commit it. Mutual distrust! It’s, um, a beautiful thing.

5) Abdicating a Seat

The Problem: In the most egregious example of Hollywood script electoral error, a victorious but chagrined Cam Brady has a change of heart and gives up the seat he just won in the election to Huggins, for the good of the district.

The Reality: When the people speak, that’s it, right or wrong. A seat in the House of Representatives is not something one man can bequeath to another. If Cam Brady had won the election, had a change of heart, and resigned, the seat would remain unfilled until a special election could be arranged and a new candidate elected. The seat never goes to the second place winner (aka the loser). We love ya, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, but I bet your gardener studying for his US citizenship exam knew that. Yeah. It’s a little embarrassing.


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