Special Review by Scott Pagliaroni
Modern American politics can be farcical, needing no help from comedians to point out how ridiculous the election process has become. Sometimes, though, it does not hurt to have a little guidance to point out foibles and failings that may not be gleaned upon simple self-analysis. This is not to say that ‘The Campaign’ is smart or insightful enough to bring about change and outrage regarding our political machines. However, it does not hurt to have several spoonfuls of laugh-filled sugar to assist in the swallowing of one’s medicine, in this case that being messages about how U.S. politics are corrupt and inane.
People take preconceived notions in a movie based on its actors, writers, and director. In the case of ‘The Campaign’, the director is Jay Roach, known for such comedies as the ‘Meet the Parents’ and ‘Austin Powers’ films. Your writers are Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, who have back other Will Ferrell projects including ‘Eastbound and Down’ and ‘The Other Guys’. These pedigrees, combined with Will Ferrell as the lead, would lead one to assume a raunchy, ridiculous romp is in order. One would be partially correct in that assumption. ‘The Campaign’, though, delivers more than just straight forward gross-out laughs.
Ferrell plays our leading man, Cam Brady, a stereotype of someone who has won four unopposed Congressional races. He hails from a generic area of North Carolina, which stands in for small town America. He begins looking like a shoe-in for a fifth uncontested fight, but faces a large sex scandal after a raunchy dinner scene, one of a couple in the movie. In staying topical and noteworthy, the villains of the film appear in the Koch brother parodying Motch brothers, played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd in milquetoast cameo roles. They see an opening to buy into the political game in the area, for financial purposes, and run an inept son, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis, ‘The Hangover’), of one of their rich friends, Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox).
The ongoing political race encases the majority of the film, with escalating insanity, idiocy, and brutality seen on both sides, with most of the impetus being perpetuated by Marty’s ruthless campaign manager, Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott, ‘The Practice’), who is implanted by the Motch brothers to ensure a victory. There are a variety of vignettes taken from a traditional political race, such as a debate or a town hall meeting, portrayed. But, true to a Will Ferrell film, they are primarily used as a scene of escalating jokes back and forth, usually with an over-the-top payoff that usually works. Unlike most Ferrell projects, there is more of a message here, that message being that the American political system is pretty goofy, when broken down, and is semi-corrupt and co-opted. Beneath the laughter, a number of themes and targets arise, with some of the barbs being spot-on, and others come off heavy handed. We see themes like Super PACs, job outsourcing, and terrible, mudslinging television advertisements being skewered, along with the jingo-slinging foppishness that politicians are prone to; in this case, Ferrell’s Brady, a Democratic candidate, is the offender, dropping ‘Support the Troops’ or ‘Guns, Freedom, Jesus’ with no context to his message, as politicians are wont to do. However, politicians are not the only ones in the crosshairs. The ignorance of the voting populace in general is attacked frequently, regardless of whether or not it is meant to be funny.
Galifianakis brings his traditional goofiness to his role, heightened by ugly sweaters, an effeminate, lisp-y delivery, and a moustache. The acting overall is not remarkable, but it is serviceable for a comedy. Ferrell, after a few serious turns, is back in Ron Burgundy-like ‘Anchorman’ mode, ad-libbing on a number of outrageous dialogues. The cameos, from the various talking heads currently on the major cable news networks, were a nice touch, adding a touch of realism while winking at the camera.
With national and presidential elections right around the corner this fall, ‘The Campaign’ could not have been better timed for release. While not a true satirical masterpiece, which could open one’s eyes or change their thought process about the U.S. political, it is quietly sardonic, delivering messages while also distracting one’s attention with raunchy, physical comedy.
You may like if you also enjoyed: