As The Campaign opens, North Carolina congressman Cam Brady repeats the words his campaign manager believes will win the most votes: America. Jesus. Freedom.
“North Carolina is taking care of business!” Brady tells a crowd at a stadium rally while his prominently displayed wife and children stand nearby.
Spouting catch phrases such as “support our troops” and never saying anything that actually means anything has gotten Brady elected to congress four times. Taking a page straight from modern American politics, he’ll say anything to win a fifth consecutive term.
A run of scandals, however, suddenly sends Brady’s re-election shoe-in and chances for being vice president south. The missteps and gaffes the congressman makes are so stupid and over-the-top as to be unbelievable — much like the real-life scandals and gaffes that regularly engulf America’s elected and appointed officials.
Lifting its jokes and plot from politics as usual, The Campaign is an uneven hybrid of broad political satire and R-rated movie comedies. It’s loaded with vulgarity of the kind seen and heard in teen comedies, even though no teens are principal characters.
Will Ferrell stars as Congressman Brady and Zach Galifianakis co-stars as his opponent, political novice Marty Huggins.
Brady and Huggins, two juvenile, even infantile adults, function as the film’s teens gone wild. When the widely reported exploits and indiscretions of numerous political types are considered, the similarity between The Campaign’s candidates and the teens in Superbad, Revenge of the Nerds and American Pie isn’t a stretch.
“One minute you’ve got your pants down, the next minute you’re a U.S. congressman,” a newly elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives tells an election night audience in The Campaign. “It’s usually the other way around.”
Before victory is declared, Brady and Huggins go at it like kids on a playground. Their holy war for Capitol Hill begins when Huggins, the darkest of dark horses, qualifies for the race against the usually unopposed Brady.
Marty’s day job is director of tourism for the small town of Hammond, N.C. He’s a man of such small brain power that it’s surprising he’s been given any responsibility whatsoever. Maybe his wealthy, powerbroker father has something to do with it.
Galifianakis adopts a sissified Southern accent for the role of Marty. The short, round actor’s bad wardrobe makes him funnier still.
“That little guy’s a weirdo,” Brady says. “I’m go’ smoke that clown.”
Ferrell, who portrayed former president George W. Bush in Saturday Night Live sketches and on Broadway as well as the title character in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, enters familiar territory as the North Carolinian congressman. As likely a role as Brady is for Ferrell, Galifianakis and supporting players, especially Karen Maruyama as the maid, Mrs. Yao, steal the show.
The big comic cast also includes Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd as the billionaire Motch brothers and the perfectly cast former Baton Rougean Katherine LaNasa as Brady’s wife, Rose.
Brady’s name is being thrown around as a potential vice presidential candidate. His ambitious wife is especially enthusiastic about it. “I want to be second lady,” she demands.
But the challenge of crafting a political satire based on a political system that’s already a clown circus may have been too much for the filmmakers. The movie’s funnier scenes tend to have nothing to do with politics. Yet when this hit-and-miss comedy does hit, it’s convulsively funny.
Another film made in Louisiana, The Campaign shot its Hammond, N.C., scenes in Gretna. The movie used the city’s courthouse exterior and erected façades alongside it to represent just the sort of classic small-town structures that stood there before the site became a parking lot. Other scenes were shot in and near New Orleans, the locations including Madisonville’s Magnolia Baptist Church, cast as the movie’s Pentecostal Church of God. Snake-handling for laughs.
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