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‘The Campaign’ isn’t the best candidate

By Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times –

Like many a political campaign, Jay Roach’s comedy “The Campaign” seems to be two forces — in this case, two movies — battling against each other, leaving its audience wondering which will come out on top.

One of the movies is a genuinely funny political satire, in which two candidates for congressional office repeat the words “America,” “Jesus” and “freedom” a lot and, when in doubt under any circumstances, shout “Support our troops!” to whoever’s listening. Squaring off against it is a typical low-rent comedy, filled with poop jokes, raunch and little kids saying improbably dirty things. The first movie wins, but just barely.

Will Ferrell plays incumbent Congressman Cam Brady, a lazy, cynical fellow with John Edwards hair, a John Edwards-ish mistress and a habit of telling every group he addresses (veterans, teachers, amusement-park-ride operators) that they are “the nation’s backbone.” He thinks he’s cruising into another term in his North Carolina district unopposed, but suddenly a rival candidate appears: Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), an employee of the local tourism office, a political neophyte and an oddball (which we know without being told, because he’s being played by Galifianakis) with a knack for looking simultaneously blank and terrified. Jason Sudeikis plays Cam’s beleaguered campaign manager; Dylan McDermott is Tim Wattley (paging “Seinfeld”!), a smoothly Mephistophelian image consultant charged with transforming Marty into a regular guy.

On the road to Election Day, “The Campaign” has some funny bits about baby-kissing, campaign rhetoric (one candidate invokes “the greatest American who ever lived, Jesus Christ”) and dogs. (Marty’s told he must ditch his beloved pugs for better-polling pets: a chocolate Lab and a golden retriever, wearing bandannas and named Sergeant and Scout. The new dogs pose serenely for a revised Huggins family portrait, while the pugs gaze sadly from an attic window.) For every joke that lands, there’s another that falls flat, but “The Campaign” has the dual advantages of being both timely and brief.

As a respite from real-life politics (and a nostalgic reminder that there are indeed still places where people line up to vote on Election Day), it’s a just-good-enough diversion.

———

THE CAMPAIGN

2 1/2 stars

With Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox. Directed by Jay Roach, from a screenplay by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell. 85 minutes. Rated R for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity.

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