The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Campaign
The Campaign - Available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download 10/30!

It's getting so that you can't tell the politicians from the comedians. That's how crazy our political scene has become. The difference, I guess, is that the comedians are funny on purpose. This being the case, it seems entirely appropriate that Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis have been cast as dueling congressional candidates in The Campaign, a new satire from director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers). I'm not sure I'd vote for either of these guys in a polling booth, but at the box office, they almost always make me laugh. Taking on a slightly more ambitious subject than normal, both men turn in hilarious performances in a film that works as a raunchy comedy and as an astute takedown of modern-day vote-whoring.

Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a multi-term congressman from North Carolina who is running unopposed in the upcoming election. A couple of billionare CEOs, Glenn and Wade Motch (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), decide that Brady potentially stands to interfere with a shady business deal they're cooking up. For this reason, they opt to fund their own candidate, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a slightly dim-witted and effeminate guy who runs the local tourism center but has a well-connected father (Brian Cox). Under the guidance of ruthless campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), Marty is transformed from a nebbishy family man into the ultimate gun-totin' Bible-quotin' Tea Party-esque candidate. Cam, meanwhile, resents having an opponent, so he sets out to embarrass Marty, much to the chagrin of his own campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis). As the two struggle to gain approval points in the polls, their standards of personal behavior decline radically.

The Campaign creates comedy by mocking a very simple truth: political races have become about everything except policy. Cam and Marty find themselves devising smear campaigns, attack ads, and salacious rumors rather than actual political platforms. The goal, as is often the case in real life, isn't so much to convince voters of their own worthiness, but rather to convince them that their opponents are untrustworthy sleazebags. Written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, the film's screenplay recognizes the smoke and mirrors that make up so much of what we now identify as “discourse.” It also takes on the sorts of behind-the-scenes machinations that have created the mess our system is in. The Motch brothers are obvious stand-ins for Charles and David Koch, the billionaire siblings who have funded millions of dollars to ultra-conservative candidates under the guise of “grassroots efforts.” Money, the movie says, absolutely affects who gets elected.

All of this may sound a little heavy. The master stroke of The Campaign is that it touches on these ideas through accessibly outrageous jokes. Everything is taken to an exaggerated extreme, with Cam and Marty gradually stooping to lower and lower depths. The lower they go, the funnier things get. What begins with jab-trading at a public debate eventually devolves into attempts to manufacture deeply humiliating scandals for each other. Cam is dragged through the mud after accidentally punching a baby, Marty is accused of being Al-Qaeda for having facial hair, and so on. There were at least a dozen things in The Campaign that made me laugh out loud. A simple gag about Cam's kids listening to music was my favorite. (You'll know it when you see it.) There's real invention to the story's jokes. Politicians can be an easy target; this movie builds layers to the jokes, so that it's never simply shooting fish in a barrel.

Ferrell and Galifianakis are both fantastically funny. Ferrell's Cam is angry and slick, a career politician who's become so entrenched in the Washington beltway that he assumes it's his God-given right to stay there, even if he's not actually doing anything. As played by Galifianakis, Marty is a clueless but sincere guy who's duped into selling his soul. Wattley convinces him that Cam is the devil, and that anything he does to defeat the guy is morally justifiable. Both men, essentially, are misguided, which makes their travails that much more hilarious. The actors run with the material, turning in moments that are pure comedy gold.

Does The Campaign grow a bit soft in the end? Perhaps, although I think there's some justification for it. The film isn't content to only be cynical; it also wants to suggest a way to fix the system. And, really, it's partially right in what it suggests as a fix. Smart, scathing, and wildly, wildly funny, The Campaign marvelously exposes the idiocy that is holding our political system hostage.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

The Campaign will be released on Blu-Ray combo pack, DVD, and on digital download on October 29. The Blu-Ray contains the theatrical cut, as well as an extended cut that runs 11 minutes longer. The most notable addition is a scene in which Cam is interviewed by Piers Morgan.

As is custom with comedies such as this, there is a "Line-O-Rama" feature in which the actors give variations on certain bits of dialogue. It offers a few laughs, as does a three-minute gag reel. Finally, there are fifteen minutes of rightfully deleted scenes that would have added nothing of value to the movie as a whole. The only amusing thing in them is a sequence in which Marty campaigns door-to-door and ends up encountering a nudist couple.

An UltraViolet copy of the film is also included in the pack.

The Campaign is rated R for crude sexual content, language, and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

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