Friday, August 10, 2012

The Campaign [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Roger Ebert (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

The Campaign (directed by Jay Roach, written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell) is without a doubt a very crude film.  As such, the film will be off-putting to a fair amount of viewers, particularly older ones, regardless of political affiliation.

That said, I must say that I share the film-makers' disgust with the current political process in the United States where candidates (and their backers) will say truly almost anything to win.  And I would share to a large extent the film-makers' political view.  I do believe that political money corrupts.

What's my out of this dilemma then?  Honestly, in my daydreams, I've toyed with "revisiting monarchy" because at least then governance would be "left to the King" who we could then ridicule and criticize ... and, yes, I know we'd probably end up in some dungeon ... but we wouldn't be afflicted by the AWFUL political ads that THIS FILM actually so wonderfully, mercilessly, and IMHO _so justly_ lampoons.

What's then is the film about?  Will Farrell plays Cam Brady a four time Democratic congressman from North Carolina recognizably modeled after former presidential and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards.  He's arrogant, morally reckless and not particularly bright, but he runs unopposed.  Why?  Because he knows his District.  He says B.S., says it proudly, with conviction.  But he doesn't do anything, one way or another, to harm his district.  He's basically a mascot, a clown.

He does, however, get himself into trouble by leaving a lengthy over-the-top sexually explicit message on the wrong answering machine (He thinks he's leaving the message on the voice mail box of a campaign worker he had just had <....> with, and instead leaves it on the answering machine of a humble Christian family about to say grace before their meal).  It was an unbelievably stupid mistake.  But then in real life, not a few months ago, Democratic Representative Tony Wiener from New York did something similarly stupid, sending a sexually explicit photograph of himself to a campaign worker, thinking that this would be both somehow "appropriate" and "not get out."  Welcome to the digital age ...

Seeing Cam Brady wounded, the Motch Brothers (played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) modeled after the astro-turf Tea Party financing Koch Brothers see an opening.  They want to turn Cam Brady's 14th Congressional District into basically "China today" by getting wavers to reduce the wage, safety and environmental standards in the 14th District to China levels calling the process "insourcing").

When Cam Brady in a fit of conscience (or stupidity?) refuses to go along with their plan, they decide to put-up a candidate to run against him.  Who?  It doesn't matter to them.  They open their roladex and find an old friend Raymond Huggins (played by Brian Cox).  Raymond's too old and probably too smart to run.  So they decide to go with his nice and somewhat loser son Marty Huggins (played by Zach Galifianakis) instead.  Putting $1 million down in a Super Pac in his name, they figure that they can turn him into whoever they want.  Indeed, they bring in a "fixer" named Tim Wattley (played by Dylan McDermatt) who so completely "makes over' Marty's life that he gets rid of his two little Chinese dogs, replacing them with a "poll tested" Lab and Collie.  Much ensues ...

Most of what ensues has little to do with the people of  "North Carolina's 14th Congressional District."  Cam Brady continues to run on his tried and true slogan of "America, Jesus and Freedom" until he's found to not be able to recite even the Lord's Prayer when challenged by Marty at a debate.

Marty then pushes the "character" issue further by composing a terrible ad featuring him asking Cam Brady's 10 year old son: "Does your father play with you?" The boy answers "no, not really, he's too busy."  Marty continues: "I'll play with you."  "Okay."  "You know you can call me daddy, if you want" "I'm not sure" "Don't worry, if your daddy isn't a real daddy, you call me daddy instead."  "Okay, daddy."  "I'm Marty Huggins, and if your daddy won't step up and be a real dad, I will... and I ever so reluctantly endorse this message..."

Seeing that ad, Cam Brady becomes incensed demanding "He steals my son, I'll sleep with his wife!"  So he does, seducing Marty Huggins' nice, naive and somewhat frumpy wife and puts the resulting pixelated sex tape on YouTube, running perhaps the first political ad with the disclaimer "This Political Ad is intended for Mature Audiences Only ..."

Marty, in turn incensed then comes with a gun to Cam Brady's "hunting photo op" and just shoots Cam in the leg and leaves, not even bothering to make it look like a Dick Cheney-like "hunting accident."  And what happens?  Marty's poll numbers "get a bump of 2-3 points" for shooting his opponent in the leg....

If this all seems appalling, it's because it is.  Yes, the film makers exaggerate.  But honestly not much.  And yes, BOTH candidates eventually catch themselves before completely falling off the cliff.  So there is a "happy ending" of sorts.  But what an ugly mess ... as is, honestly, the political process in the United States today.

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