This late summer release featuring two of the most reliable and interesting comic actors working today plays like an actual politician running for public office. By this I mean it shows great promise, delivers early, but ultimately lets us down a bit in the end. This is not to say I regret giving the film my vote. There were a few big laughs, but it’s just that I wish they would have given the third act another rewrite. A mixed bag of some hilarious moments and a few that were a little flat. There is however enough here for me to recommend this political broad comedy as an entertaining flick.
The film opens with us being introduced to Congressman Cam Brady of the 14th District of North Carolina (The Fightin 14th!!), sorry. Basically we come to know Brady as one of those lifelong politicians who didn’t strive to be a congressman so he can help his district, but rather he did it solely because he just wanted to be a congressman. Will Ferrell plays Brady as a mix between Bill Clinton and John Edwards, which is to say he’s sharp, cool, and extremely horny. He’s also running unopposed and conducts himself like a politician without a care in the world. Just before an election Brady misdials and leaves a graphic message at the home of a Christian family that was meant for his mistress. This scandal doesn’t have Brady too concerned, but it gets the attention of two corporate giants played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd. They are the Motch brothers, and the filmmakers are not shy in making the comparison of these two characters to actual siblings the Koch brothers, who have been famously buying there way into Washington and the National Media.
In the film, the Motch brothers realize that they can capitalize on Brady’s disgrace and place a puppet candidate in the election and use that district of North Carolina for a groundbreaking “in sourcing” deal with China. They realize their only chance is with the somewhat estranged son of a southern billionaire friend of theirs. This is when we meet Marty Huggins, a small business owner in the 14th District who blindly jumps at the chance to run for congress and help his community. What he also really wants though is to make his father proud. When we see them together for the first time, it’s hard to see why Marty would try to win his father over since his father, played by Brian Cox, assures him that it is highly doubtful that this will ever happen.
Zach Galifianakis plays Marty Huggins, and he is really the soul and conscience of the movie. Galifianakis plays Huggins as an effeminate family man with an innocent and well meaning heart. I found this performance to be both very entertaining, and a little frustrating. I’m assuming that since Marty becomes the guiding force behind the movie’s ultimate message concerning our current state of political corruption, the filmmakers decided that playing up his questionable sexual tendencies would make him too duplicitous. I think this was a huge mistake, and a missed opportunity. Director Jay Roach and the writers should have just gone for it. After the initial set up of the film, they seem to cover almost every recent scandal concerning corporateAmerica,Washington, and the media. There’s so much material in the recent trend of closeted gay right wingers who rally against gay rights that points a finger at the plague of hypocrisy in our country right now. It’s a little ridiculous that a movie willing to show a baby being punched in the face didn’t have the guts to reveal Huggins as a husband and father coming to grips with his sexuality. This could have been something both very timely, and even funny.
What saved the film for me were the performances. Ferrell and Galifianakis both have funny moments along with Jason Sudeikis as Brady’s frustrated campaign manager, Dylon McDermott as Huggins’ shady advisor, Sarah Baker as Huggins’ overwhelmed wife, and Katherine LaNasa as Brady’s opportunistic wife. For me one of the film’s funniest and most inspired moments came from actress Karen Maruyama as the maid of Huggins’ father. Sometimes a bit in a movie can be so simple, yet so brilliant at the same time. While I do endorse this comedy, I feel it will eventually serve out its potential best during its second term as a video rental and on cable.