The Campaign ***
Jay Roach’s new comedy is more in the vein of his slapstick work of Meet The Parents/Fockers and Austin Powers, so those expecting a clever political satire ridiculing the recent Romney and Ryan shenanigans, say, of current US politics will be mildly disappointed. However, there are enough subtle undertones to admire and to suggest writers Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell and leads/producers Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis have more than studied the absurdity of being in a political spotlight, spilling over into personal life. And there are some immensely funny gags too, within a constantly funny premise.
Ferrell plays the sleazy, bed-hopping Cam Brady, a long-term congressman and family man of the North Carolina district. After an unfortunate evening phone to the wrong party, his popularity takes a nosedive. Two nefarious and filthy rich CEOs, the Notch Brothers – played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, see their chance to gain influence over the district and expand their empire under dubious means by putting up a rival candidate in the effeminate buffoon and local director of the local Tourism Centre, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), in order to oust Brady. What begins as an easy road to victory for the congressman becomes a political battle of wills and dirty politics.
Ferrell and Galifianakis are guilty of playing to type in this, so nothing new there. However, there is still a lot of enjoyment to be had, and the comedy pair really act out the two primary gags – one involving a baby and a dog and the other a cow – exceptionally well with expert timing. Their choice of over-milking the acting pudding is perfect in such an farcical political environment, highlighted by a battle of muck throwing over a child’s publication, right down to the obvious sex scandal moments, which some may see as producing easy frat-boy laughs, but are still all very relevant in such an hotbed arena.
Perhaps the film’s main weak spot is trying to make both opponents agreeable, regardless of the outrageous antics. Although the film sticks to safe territory, never painting anybody in politics as a purely black or white in character, this does result in a tame, cosy ending. Part of the problem is the under-use of Aykroyd and Lithgow as the true ‘villains’ in the piece who never get enough screen time for us to truly realise their dastardly, scheming plans and cutthroat tactics, so when the chips are down in the end, it all feels a little flat.
That said the comic pace and timing is never tiresome, and there is still much ludicracy to revel in, seeing Ferrell and Galifianakis mock another class of folk who more than deserve it. In summary, The Campaign has not got enough of a political bite but it more than makes up for this with its ridicule of the insignificant elements of the political campaign trail.