Promises and lies

DAVID MANNING
Last updated 13:32 16/08/2012
The campaign
ON THE HUSTINGS: Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell in The Campaign.

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REVIEW: The Campaign. Starring Will Farrell, Zack Galifianakis. Directed by Jay Roach. R16.

Greasing its satire with silliness, The Campaign makes funny something which should be no laughing matter.

In targeting what have become ubiquitous characteristics of American political campaigning - be it by Democrats or Republicans - it is bull's-eye accurate. A candidate - challenger or incumbent - must champion America, Jesus, family and freedom to have any chance of winning. "Support the troops" is also a handy phrase to use in a tight spot or when at a loss for words. The comedy also emphasises how influential Big Money is in manipulating, even dictating, election outcomes and subsequent political decision-making.

The story has an overconfident, incumbent congressman named Cam Brady (Will Farrell) unexpectedly facing opposition from naive, idealistic Marty Huggins (Zack Galifianakis) in North Carolina.

Huggins' Tea Party-style candidacy is the result of support from the wealthy Motch brothers (John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd) - no doubt inspired by the super-rich Koch brothers - who need a new politician to do their bidding in the wake of sex scandals involving Brady.

In return for financing Huggins and getting him elected, with the help of a hardball campaign manager (Dylan McDermott), an indebted Huggins will do their bidding, including bringing overseas sweatshops to American factories - of which Huggins is blissfully unaware.

As Brady, Farrell adds yet another funny character to a stable that includes newsreader Ron Burgundy (Anchorman), Nascar driver Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights) and Olympic ice skater Chazz Michaels (Blades of Glory). His Brady is a nitwit who thinks he knows it all.

Huggins is another oddball role for Galifianakis, but neither as annoying or obnoxious as his characters in the Hangover movies and Due Date. He's actually sweet-natured, if still a bit of an inept twit.

Helming the comedy is Jay Roach, who's directed such comedies as Meet the Fockers and the Austin Powers movies and has shown a savvy political bent in the television drama films Game Change and Recount, as well as having produced the Borat and Bruno satires.

American political campaigning is a rich source for parody - from politicians who talk and say nothing, to smearing opponents with negative attack ads with no basis in fact - but how successful the mocking is with Kiwi moviegoers could depend on how aware or interested they are in US politicking. The humour is broad, over the top (including an unforgettable scene with a baby) and foolish, as well as often crude and vulgar - but despite that, The Campaign is still uncomfortably, even scarily, close to reality.

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