Will Ferrell comedies are pretty easy to conceive. Simply drop the comedian into an environment like NASCAR or professional ice skating and then let him run loose with his trademark absurdist ravings. And what better place for those lunatic rants than the wacky world of politics.
Ferrell is Cam Brady, the Democratic Congressman for the state of North Carolina. He has run unopposed since his election and is about to enter his fifth term. That all changes when billionaire tycoons, Glen and Wade Motch (John Lithgow & Dan Aykroyd as thinly veiled parodies of the Koch Brothers) take a vested interest in the election as means to bring cheap Chinese labor to the U.S. The Motch Brothers choose Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the tourism director for the small town of Hammond as their candidate. Huggins is the son of Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox), a bigwig in the Republican Party who has always seen Marty as a constant embarrassment. In steps campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), a shadowy fixer sent in to butch up the effeminate Huggins. His chubby family is kept out of the public eye while his pugs are replaced by more American dogs, a golden retriever and a chocolate lab.
The Campaign was written by Shawn Harwell (HBO’s Eastbound and Down) and Chris Henchy (The Other Guys) while Jay Roach handled directorial duties. Roach is best known for directingAustin Powers and Meet the Parents. He’s had experience in political comedy as he helmedRecount and Game Change for HBO. The Campaign isn’t exactly razor sharp satire and Roach’s work here lies somewhere in between. The humor doesn’t break any new ground as the film depicts politicians has inept, greedy, and just plain horny.
Ferrell plays it to the hilt as Brady is a concoction of Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Ferrell’s own impression of George W. Bush. He’s an unrepentant philanderer spouting pedantic sound bites to rile up the rubes (“America. Jesus. Freedom”). Meanwhile, Galifianakis recycles his portrayal of his mustachioed “brother” Seth as Marty Huggins. Their rivalry begins with trash talking and rises to absurd levels as Brady drunkenly steals a police car and punches a baby in the face. At one point, Brady runs a campaign ad connecting Huggins’ facial hair to that of Saddam Hussein and bin Laden. There’s a dinner table scene at the Huggins house that’s reminiscent of Talladega Nights. Dylan McDermott and Karen Murayama provide funny supporting performances with the latter as a housekeeper paid extra to speak like a stereotypical mammy.
The Campaign lacks any teeth as the filmmakers try their best to straddle the thin line between red and blue states. They attempt to skewer everyone with gags relying on raunchiness and slapstick. If you want profanity and intelligence in your satire, Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop is a better bet. Still, The Campaign is amusing enough and moves at a brisk pace.
Film Rating: 6 out of 10