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posted: 8/9/2012 5:00 AM

'Campaign' a political tragedy disguised as R-rated comedy

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  • Democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), left, meets his Republican challenger Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) in the smart and lowbrow political comedy "The Campaign."

    Democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), left, meets his Republican challenger Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) in the smart and lowbrow political comedy "The Campaign."

  • Video: The Campaign trailer


I think years from now, Jay Roach's crazy, messy, R-rated political farce will be an unlikely snapshot of America's political landscape back in 2012.

Why? Look at how Roach uses outrageous events and lowbrow slapstick in this comedy -- written by Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell and Adam McKay -- to lay out what's wrong with our political process without being confrontational or partisan.

Hypocrisy. Racism. Greed. Low standards. Politically illiterate voters.

Yep, "The Campaign" lays out American voters who support candidates for sprinkling speeches with pop buzz words such as "freedom" and "Jesus" instead of offering actual coherent thoughts and workable solutions.

Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a Democratic congressman about to be elected unopposed to his fifth term in North Carolina's 14th district.

But a leaked, sexually explicit telephone message to a Christian married voter drops Cam's approval rating into the Dumpster.

This prompts the corrupt billionaire Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow as variations of the Kotch brothers, who financed Wisconsin's anti-union campaigns) to finance a Republican puppet who will take Cam's seat and clear the way for their scheme to sell the district to China for a huge profit.

They choose Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), a civic-minded dweeb who's flamboyant and slightly beyond metrosexual parameters. He's the failed son of a tough businessman (a wasted Brian Cox), loving husband to Mitzi (Sarah Baker) and dad to two sons who possess filing cabinets worth of their own issues.

Not realizing he's a patsy, the idealistic Marty sets out on his campaign quest to take brooms to Washington because "It's a mess!"

Reality hits in the form of a ruthless black-ops styled political henchman named Tim Watley (Dylan McDermott). He guts Marty's house, replacing his tacky, cheap furnishings with approved Republican assets, such as eagle paintings and gun cases. Gone are his beloved pug dogs. (They're Chinese!)

Watley beats the effeminate delivery out of Marty's voice and gives him a Republican makeover that turns him into a stranger to his beloved Mitzi.

The campaign slides into a series of escalating political squabbles that go so far over the top, nobody could possibly take "The Campaign" seriously. (Cam broadcasts a commercial showing him having sex with Mitzi, charging that if Marty can't satisfy his own wife, how can he be a good congressman?)

But under its riotous slapstick and toilet humor, "The Campaign" is very serious.

Roach is mostly known for the "Austin Powers" comedies, but he also directed the HBO dramas "Recount" and "Game Change," covering the elections of 2000 and 2008. So it's no accident that "The Campaign" attacks political hypocrisy and doesn't pull critical punches.

"The Campaign" has great fun taking the political buzz phrase "I approve this message" to ridiculous extremes.

It also broaches the hot-button topic of outsourcing American jobs to make big corporations more profits by forging deals with foreign countries. (Presciently, "The Campaign" comes out the week that DreamWorks announced its sequel "Kung Fu Panda 3" will be produced in China with Chinese animators.)

Now, I don't want to oversell "The Campaign." It occasionally drags. Some of the sight gags fall short. The ending feels forced and abrupt, as if cut in the middle of a scene. As Marty says, "It's a mess!"

But it's a funny, smart, bipartisan comedy that argues America's political parties are all letting us down.

And that's a tragedy.

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