Written by Kirk BairdNow that the election is over, it’s time to laugh at the political process. The Campaign is a fairly dependable comedy that never quite reaches the level of truly great political satire.
Jay Roach delivered caustic political commentary earlier this year with HBO's Game Change, an intelligent drama about the McCain-Palin ticket. He also directed 2008's effective political mouthpiece Recount, about the 2000 U.S. presidential election and the recount in Florida. The filmmaker is familiar with Hollywood as political op-ed and so is Will Ferrell, who honed his George W. Bush impersonation to perfection for years on Saturday Night Live, and briefly resurrected the character for a well-received one-man Broadway show.
It's not much of a stretch, either, to see bits of Ferrell's Bush impersonation in his role as North Carolina congressman Cam Brady.
Brady is a five-term Democrat so entrenched in his district that Republicans aren't bothering to run against him this election, until the billionaire Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide they need fresh political meat in Washington.
With the plan of opening Chinese factories in North Carolina powered by cheap labor imported from China, what they call "insourcing," the Motches create and fund their own candidate, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), an effeminate small-town tour guide and pug owner with aspirations of making a difference in his community.
Brady and his campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis) initially laugh off the no-name challenger, until Huggins's own aggressive campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) mounts an effective political counterattack that has the incumbent on the ropes and trailing in the polls.
Ferrell excels at characters who are bigheaded and clueless (Anchorman's Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights' Ricky Bobby), and Brady successfully sticks to the formula, while Galifianakis plays the doe-eyed innocent corrupted by the political system to good effect.
Sarah Baker as Mitzi, Huggins's June Cleaver spouse, and Katherine LaNasa as Rose, Brady's politically opportunistic wife, generate laughs on their own, while McDermott steals almost every scene he's in with some great lines and impressive comic timing. Roach does his best to keep the film rolling along with no dead zones to deflate the fun.
The Campaign's humor is best when edgy and dark, especially as the grueling election blitz turns nastier and more personal between the candidates, who wage a cold war of dirty tactics. It's only when The Campaign goes off topic for a rather conventional feel-good third-act finale that the laughs dry up, as jokes are replaced by moralisms about the problems in our government and the importance of politicians telling "the truth."
Oddly enough, it's honesty in politics that proves to be the least funny gag of them all.