By Adam Shaw
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — After helming two much-lauded HBO political dramas — 2008’s "Recount" and 2012’s "Game Change" — director Jay Roach ("Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" and sequels) tries a more humorous approach to the same subject with "The Campaign" (Warner Bros.).
Roach’s potentially salient big-screen critique of the nation’s electoral process, however, gets buried under a landslide of vulgarity and sex jokes. The ill-chosen topics from which his picture attempts to draw laughs range from adultery and masturbation to pedophilia and bestiality.
North Carolina congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is enjoying a safe, undisturbed career until an obscene phone call intended for his mistress is accidentally received instead by a clan of devout Christians in the midst of a family dinner.
Poll numbers plummet, and Brady’s formerly supportive backers, the wealthy and powerful Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), decide a shake-up is required at the next election. The money-flushed siblings settle on Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) — the bumbling director of a local tourist center, and son of a political operator of their acquaintance (Brian Cox) — as the change they can believe in.
Huggins is a lovable but naive dunce who simply wants to make a difference for his hometown. So the brothers install ruthless Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) as his campaign manager. Wattley soon transforms Huggins into a win-at-all-cost contender — much to the disapproval of the candidate’s lonely wife Mitzi (Sarah Baker) — and the race begins in earnest.
As election day approaches, decency and civility are tossed aside by both individuals as the contest descends into farce.
Although Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell’s screenplay includes a few relatively serious passages of commentary — specifically a dour-faced final 20 minutes — dealing with issues like campaign finance reform, the majority of the running time is devoted to sophomoric humor and repellant shock gags.
While taking some funny swipes at how politicians try to use religion to win votes, moreover — "America, Jesus, Freedom" runs Brady’s risible slogan — "The Campaign" also includes material genuinely odious to viewers of faith. In particular, a scene involving Brady’s campaign manager Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) and the words of the Our Father — which, in a potentially embarrassing lapse, his pseudo-pious employer has managed to forget — sinks (albeit briefly) into obscene sacrilege.
The film contains an instance of blasphemy, some mild violence, an adultery theme, obscured frontal male and partial upper female nudity, a few uses of profanity, much sexual and occasional irreverent humor, pervasive rough and crude language and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Shaw is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.