Stars: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, Katherine LaNasa, Sarah baker, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, Karen Maruyama and Josh Lawson.
Writers: Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy.
Director: Jay Roach
The Campaign will split the vote between those who would have liked a smarter take on the immorality of modern politics and those that get a big laugh out of a character nicknamed ‘Tickleshits’ because he poohs when overstimulated.
Director Jay Roach nailed super-smart dissection of the political landscape in his great small-screen works Game Change (his take on Sarah Palin’s 2008 odyssey) and Recount (a dramatization of the 2000 Florida voting result), but they seem the works of another director entirely; here, we get the guy who also directed Austin Powers in Goldmember.
Far more akin to star Will Ferrell’s Anchorman than great political satires such as Robert Redford’s The Candidate or warm-hearted White House fantasies like Kevin Kline’s Dave, The Campaign is from the team at Funny or Die. The comedy collective, overseen by Ferrell and long-time producing partner Adam McKay, specialises is bite-size webisodes of hit-&-miss skit humour, usually scatological in nature, and that’s a perfectly apt description for this, their seventh feature together.
Ferrell is Cam Brady, a North Carolinian congressman, perennially unchallenged each election year, supping at the crooked teat of big business while shtupping everything that moves. His wealth suggests a Romney-like Red State-caricature, his philandering a Clinton-esque charmer; it is one of the many hedged bets the production takes in its stance on real-world politics.
Brady’s stranglehold on the top spot is threatened when manipulative billionaires The Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, in roles that unmistakably reference Don Ameche’s and Ralph Bellamy’s Duke brothers in Trading Places) need a patsy to help push through a planned Chinese manufacturing plant that would destroy the economy of the district. Their puppet is Tourism Center director Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), a family man of considerable naivety, long the embarrassment of his power-broker father Ray (Brian Cox) and preppy creep of a little brother, Tripp (Aussie Josh Lawson).
The stage is set for a tit-for-tat series of increasingly cruel (and preposterous) one-upmanship pranks to win the electorate’s approval. As Brady’s world unravels, Ferrell brings his typically vivid and fearless comedic A-game, but it is Galifianakis who gets most of the film’s biggest laughs as the sweetly buffoonish Huggins. The decision to play him as an ambiguously effeminate yet happily married man reminds one of Martin Short’s Jiminy Glick alter-ego.
The primary shortcoming is that The Campaign is perfectly happy to be the same foul-mouthed, frat-boy romp as we’ve all seen before from Ferrell and co. This time, the smug jerk who finally learns to play nice is a politician and not an egomaniacal newsman, a Nascar champ (Talladega Nights), a combative sibling (Step Brothers) or dim-witted explorer (Land of the Lost), but the template is the same and the schtick familiar.
With the Republican leadership circus over and a presidential campaign in full swing, a more incisive skewering of the process would have been welcome, but the Funny or Die team falls back on broad smut and treacly sentimentality. It is not without some big laughs but, given Hollywood is unlikely to role the dice on two political parodies in the same year, The Campaign is a wasted opportunity to seriously laugh at the backroom dealings that drive the grinding gears of modern democracy.