012 is the year of great political upheaval in the US and around the world. So what better time for Jay Roach, Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis to send up the political system with the aptly titled The Campaign?
Will Ferrell is Cam Brady, the 4 term Democratic Congressman for North Carolina’s 14th District. Everything is golden for the political icon until a misplaced phonecall triggers a scandal and sensing his weakness industrial tycoons the Motch brothers back an alternate candidate. A very alternative candidate in the guise of Marty Huggins, local do-gooder and tour guide for the city of Hampton. What he lacks in political awareness he lacks in charisma but with millions behind him and a slick campaign manager Huggins might just pull of the impossible and the scene is set for a showdown of epic proportions.
Neither Ferrell nor Galifianakis stretch themselves too far in this film, with the former mixing his George W. Bush impersonation with his Ricky Bobby, and the latter taking the sharp edges off for a softer, more effete character. Neither are bad and the interplay between them works to modest effect, but mostly what their diminished power does is allow the ancillary characters their moments in the light. Particularly effective is Dylan McDermott a the “evil” PR guru who is going to turn Galifianakis’ Huggins from lap-dog to hunter. It’s a scene-stealing turn from McDermott who is stylish, slimy and sinister. His counterpart, Jason Sudeikis, is completely outgunned by the comics around him in a severely underwritten role. Elsewhere Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow as the Duke brothers, sorry Motch brothers, portray the cartoon villainy that their characters need with great aplomb. Katherine LaNasa and Sarah Baker do very well and okay respectively despite being overshadowed by the men. LaNasa in particular does a great line in cold-hearted trophy-wife. The master minor role however goes to Brian Cox as Raymond Huggins, the perpetually ashamed, perpetually angry, perpetually sozzled father of Galifianakis. How he keeps a straight-face with the stuff he says is amazing.
The laughs that are garnered are more due to the cast than the script but there are one or two stand-out scenes. These revolve around highly unlikely and highly inappropriate electioneering. To go into depth on these would take from the comedy, although one does feature in the trailer and yet still packs a punch. The plot it’s self, aside from the gags, is utterly derivative and predictable. Given that the US presidential politicians are making such monumental gaffes and blunders at present the timing was perfect for a pastiche of the political system. All of the targets are safe with no real pot-shots at real-life parties, candidates or policies, save that mentioning America, Jesus and Freedom will always get you cheers. Smarter would have been better, but what you have here is infantile and puerile and weaker as a result. Director Jay Roach can and has done better.
All in all it’s a diverting and amusing way to spend 90 minutes, but it’s nowhere near the level of Anchorman, The Hangover or even Talladega Nights.