As an election year, there’s more than enough real political humor to go around, so it seems superfluous to have a fictional comedy dealing with the topic. Nevertheless, The Campaign manages to be a pretty decent one, especially given the hit-or-miss nature of the recent films of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.
Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a longtime congressman from North Carolina who is running unopposed but still feels the need to go out and campaign. This may not have been the greatest decision on his part, as he’s made a number of stupid mistakes that have caused his numbers to decline. This is particularly worrisome to the Motch brothers (played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), since they’re the puppetmasters who really wield the power of Brady’s office, primarily for their own financial gain. Rather than risking the chance that some unknown could come in and steal the office, the Motch brothers decide to hedge their bets by introducing their own second candidate. And their choice is the sweet, effeminate, and beefheaded Marty Huggins (Galifianakis).
The competition is immediately fierce, with each unleashing attack ads, engaging in religious pandering, and fighting over babies to kiss. Brady excels at dirty pool and right away puts Huggins on the defensive, but Marty is the clear winner when it comes to things like debating the issues. And with the help of a political strategist supplied by the Motches, Marty begins to develop his skills in the darker side of the game, making him a much more formidable opponent.
The Campaign isn’t exactly a non-stop laugh riot, but it was quite a bit better than I expected. Ferrell is well known for his George W. Bush impression, and he clearly puts elements of it to use in this movie, but his Cam Brady is actually more a composite of Bush, Clinton, and Perot. It’s often lowbrow and obvious, but still made me laugh a few times. On the other hand, the excessively stereotypical “gay” voice that Galifianakis employed struck me with instant dread, and a lame physical gag that accompanied his entrance into the competition didn’t do much to alleviate my fears. But he actually turned out to be much less annoying than I’d suspected, and even managed to become kind of endearing on a couple of occasions.
It wouldn’t be a modern Hollywood comedy if it didn’t occasionally take a joke too far or opt for broader rather than smarter humor. But The Campaign still has some surprises in store, and sometimes stupid jokes can be better than sophisticated ones. If you like comedies, you’ll probably find at least something to enjoy in this one.