Long-term Congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) makes a huge public gaffe and, for the first time in his career, is forced to fight an election campaign against another candidate — Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), unwitting big-business stooge and manager of the local tourist office.
It might be thought, these days, with some justification, that the state of American politics is beyond parody. Happily, as The Campaign demonstrates, it’s not. Or not quite. That said, you have to play it pretty broad to get a rise out of an institution that seems determined to send itself up at every available opportunity. And that’s exactly what The Campaign does. If you’re looking for incisive political satire in the vein of director Jay Roach’s previous forays into the political arena (2008’s Recount, his skewering of the 2000 Florida election debacle, and this year’s Game Change, a hatchet job on the McCain/Palin Presidential bid), you’re out of luck. But if you want to see Will Ferrell punch a baby in the face, this is the movie for you. Not that The Campaign doesn’t aim some topical barbs Washington’s way; it’s just that rather than being pointed, they’re as blunt as a milkman’s hat and twice as dirty. In one instance, as the fight between Congressional hopefuls Cam Brady (Ferrell) and Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) gets nasty, Brady releases footage of him seducing and banging Huggins’ wife as a TV campaign ad. Once again, the film proves a common assumption wrong: political attack ads are not so ludicrous as to be outside the scope of pastiche.
Ferrell and Galifianakis make good sparring partners, too: Ferrell expanding on his well-polished George Bush impersonation and blending it with any dickheaded Republican blowhard you’d care to name; Galifianakis playing another diffident schlub steeled by the down-and-dirty business of winning an election. Dylan McDermott also puts in a scene-stealing appearance as a reptilian campaign manager.
The jokes are scattershot, the targets are barn door-wide, but there are plenty of big laughs to be had. Unfortunately, they dry up when the predictable cop-out finale arrives. Pretending that, in politics, honesty and virtue will prevail in the end isn’t funny; it’s sad.
The Campaign gets by on its stars’ comic compatibility and a relentless stream of jokes, many of which are laugh-out-loud funny. The only real downer is the ending, which feels tacked on like a hanging chad.