Courtesy of Warner Brothers/Petti Perret
Rooted in a world where big business controls politicians to the point where stump speeches sound like late-night infomercials, “The Campaign” is a fitting satire for the scandals of modern politics.
This is a movie that thrives on its premise. Set in North Carolina, incumbent congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell, “The Other Guys”) is a glad-handing, philandering fool who has run unopposed for the last few elections. After Brady becomes embroiled in a sex scandal, a pair of multinational corporation-owning businessmen named the Motch brothers, played by Dan Aykroyd (“War, Inc.”) and John Lithgow (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), decide it’s time to install a new congressman more favorable to their business interests. They back Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis, “The Hangover”), a cardigan-wearing wuss who speaks in an effeminate Southern drawl, to challenge Brady.
While the fun of the movie is watching the two candidates sink lower and lower to try to hurt one another’s election chances, the real heart is seeing the political race depicted as a complete farce. Neither candidate has anything of worth to say, with Brady throwing out patriotic rhetoric (his slogan is “America, Jesus and freedom”) while Huggins adopts a vague back-to-values platform that insists “It’s a mess!” without ever defining what exactly the mess is.
Because of this, the movie is technically non-partisan. Both candidates are Republican, but no actual Republican ideology is ridiculed. Instead, the political hopefuls compete with each other through alpha-male posturing, trying to prove who the better father, husband and breadwinner is. Before he even begins the race, Huggins gets a total life makeover with gun racks and oil paintings of eagles hung on his walls. He even has to replace his two pugs with a brown lab and a golden retriever because those breeds tested better with focus groups.
The most important question for a comedy, though, is: is it funny? Yeah, it’s pretty funny. You probably won’t be dying in your seat with laughter, but you’ll be entertained. Ferrell is great in his role as he combines his reprised roles of President George W. Bush and Ron Burgundy. Galifianakis’ skill at playing naïve characters is used in a different way than usual, but it still works. The two roles are rooted in each comedian’s sense of humor, so fans of either will be pleased. The supporting cast has some great performances as well. Unfortunately, Lithgow and Aykroyd as the Motch brothers don’t seem to be savoring their roles and, consequently, come off as dull.
The movie does rely a bit too heavily on gross-out humor. Some of it comes with the territory since the plot deals in part with sex scandals, but it seems like a crutch occasionally. If you have two rich wells of political humor and character-driven humor to draw from, why have so many jokes about genetalia?
It could be because, as a straight-up comedy, the movie is weaker than the highest points of Ferrell’s and Galifianakis’ respective careers. If you’re going to “The Campaign” expecting to pure hilarity on par with “Anchorman”, you’ll be slightly disappointed. However, if you’re in the market for a topical political satire that will make you laugh throughout, “The Campaign” is an excellent candidate.