Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Campaign (2012) : A sequel to Trading Places or argument for campaign finance reform?

I knew this movie was going to be funnier than the usual star vehicle
when I saw the director. Jay Roach, a Brit, is mostly known for the
first Austin Powers and Meet The Parents, but lately has strayed into
politics with two classic tv movies, Recount and Game Change (which
both made my US movie history list, as might this).

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, are incompetent US politicians
competing for corrupt business funding provided by two billionaire
brothers, Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow, who are looking to further rig
the US economy by 'insourcing' jobs in from their factorys in China.
Galifianakis's character is an innocent, whose life and family are
slowly corrupted by the political system in a familiar (if very funny)
plot arc that would probably be a bit of snooze plot wise but for the
politics and what seems to me to be a fairly obvious connection to a
cult comedy of the 80s.

Consider this - the two brothers manipulating the campaign are
obviously based on the Koch brothers, and Dan Ackroyd's character is
obviously partially based on a grown up version of his Winthorpe
character in John Landis's 1983 classic Trading Places. In Trading Places
Winthorpe is the victim, manipulated by the Duke brothers Randolph
(Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) into crossing the class
divide and swapping places with Eddie Murphy. By 2013 Winthorpe, or at
least a Dan Ackroyd character very much like him, has become one of
the meddlers himself in a scenario sadly far closer to reality than
the 1983 movie. Back then we could laugh at the games being played by
the rich at the expense of the rest of the world population, 30 years
later these games are rigging the political system in a way that is
way beyond sport.

To briefly spell out the issue being exposed in The Campaign for UK
audiences, in a landmark case in 2009 (which finally exposed that that
US supreme court had been infiltrated by right wing ideologues), the
Citizens United ruling established that legally Corporations have
human rights, meaning Corporations, like humans, can spend unlimited
amounts on candidates in political campaigns. Those outside the US
wondering about the current dysfunction in Congress can trace it right
back to the wing nut amateur loons that have been supported into
government as a direct result of Citizens United.

Taken just as a movie, this is the best Zach Galifianakis movie I've
seen movie outside The Hangover, playing a character, Marty Huggins,
which I think is meant as a surprisingly gentle dig at Tea Party
amateurism. When Marty eventually morphs into a dorky Theodore
Roosevelt figure you actually wonder if Zach Galifianakis be tempted
to have a crack at portraying the real President someday.

Ferrell reigns in the crazy mostly and if you are a fan you will love
some of this. If you are not he provides just enough of a variation on
other WF characters. I think this is supposed to be his Bill Clinton
though the actual party allegiances of both characters are kept quite
vague. Both get fantastic support from the rest of the cast with some
memorably wacky concepts, like Mrs. Yao the housekeeper forced to
speak like an elderly black woman by her racist employer, handled well
by a director who can dabble with surreal comedy well.

The Campaign tails off toward the end and gets a little too obvious
but does make you think about some of the strangeness of American
politics. I found myself thinking about Ferrell's accent, and by
extension Bush's Texan accent. George W. Bush was of course from
Connecticut and the adoption of Southern accents for political
credibility does seem to be something of a theme over there.. Other
casual watchers might be as stupified as myself to find going that gun
toting good ol boy Ted Nugent, recently interviewed by the Secret
Service for announcing
"If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will
either be dead or in jail",
hails from Detroit Michigan, not Mississippi, and consequently has a
lot more in common with MC 5, Eminem and other Detroit residents (like
Sixto Rodriguez) than he probably likes to admit.

If this sort of crazy isn't exposed by The Campaign, it is only
because right now there is far too much crazy in US politics.

<This movie was suggested by probably the most beautiful girl I'll ever
sit down to dinner with - thanks Pipistrelle>

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