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Friday, August 10, 2012

Hollywood Product: 'The Campaign'

PRESS THE FLESH: Zach Galifianakis gets a grip on Will Ferrell in The Campaign
GENRE: Political spoof

THE PITCH: Washington insiders The Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) throws their clout and cash behind small-town ninny Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) to oust scandal-plagued incumbent congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) and take control of a small North Carolina district.

BEST LINE: “You looked like Richard Simmons crapped out a goddamn hobbit!” Marty’s macho, politically savvy father (Brian Cox) rails at his effete son. A scene with Marty’s family sharing their darkest secrets has too many great one-liners to count.

WORST LINE: “This is the first time I’ve worn a Yamaha!” Marty exclaims at a Jewish temple campaign event. The Campaign’s cast sells many wonderfully stupid lines, but that’s not one of them.

MONEY SHOTS: As a political satire, The Campaign features hilarious negative ads, including a photoshopped version of mustached Marty in Muslim garb, wearing a bomber vest and giving the finger. Cam’s highly public mishap when attempting to kiss a baby becomes a viral gaffe (and the obvious CGI tweaks keep the man-on-baby injury from looking horribly realistic). Cam suffers oversized side effects from a venomous bite at a snake-handling congregation. Cam takes an ill-advised joyride, captured on a patrol car’s video recorder.

TORN FROM THE HEADLINES: As a North Carolina politician with an infidelity problem and great hair, John Edwards clearly inspired Cam Brady. Aykroyd and Lithgow evoke the real-life influence peddlers, the Koch Brothers, but also the fictional schemers played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy in Aykroyd’s Trading Places. The Campaign also dings Chinese sweatshops and big-money SuperPacs empowered by the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling.

CAMPAIGN MAKEOVER: Sinister campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) forbids Marty from wearing colorful sweaters in favor of conservative suits, and gives Marty’s uncouth wife Mitzi (Bridesmaids’ Sarah Baker) a “Kati Couric” haircut and the generic blazers of a candidate’s wife. Wattley generally dresses like a Mafia lawyer.

FLESH FACTOR: After the first debate, Marty meets a new fan in a state of perpetual nip-slip. Cam releases a political ad that shows him full frontal nude — and strategically blurred — in front of a fireplace.

LAMESTREAM WALK-ON ROLES: Predictable media figures make cameos, including Bill Maher, Dennis Miller, Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer, Piers Morgan and many others. Thankfully, one of the stars of last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner has a brief but hilarious appearance.

SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: Cam’s squeaky-clean looking children frequently listen to “Azz & Tittiez” by Hypnotize Camp Posse. Bachman & Turner appear as themselves to play the Cam-paign’s theme song, “Takin’ Care of Business.” Cam drunkenly and improperly sings along to “Barracuda” by Heart.

LOCAL COLOR: Atlanta actress Elizabeth Welles Berkes shares two funny scenes with “30 Rock’s” Jack McBrayer as a deeply religious couple.

REALITY BASED: In real life, Galifianakis hails from Wilkesboro, N.C., and his uncle Nick Galifianakis, a North Carolina congressman from 1967-1973, explained the his last name with the slogan “It starts with a 'Gal’ and ends with a 'kis.’” Also, director Jay Roach alternates between silly comedies like Austin Powers and HBO political dramas like Game Change, although The Campaign looks more like the former.

THE BOTTOM LINE: When Marty and Cam engage in mud-slinging and increasingly psychotic behavior, The Campaign gives Ferrell and Galifianakis license for uproarious hijinks, without straying too far from modern politics’ frivolous realities. Roach blunts the film’s satirical edge with a last-minute attempt to swap cynicism for idealism, and the weak ending undermines the previous hilarity. Otherwise, audiences should howl with laughter all the way through The Campaign and leave the theater saying “I approve this message.”

The Campaign. 3 stars. Directed by Jay Roach. Stars Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis. Rated R. Opens Fri., Aug. 10. At area theaters.

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