'The Campaign' is not a key victory

Will Ferrell in "The Campaign."
August 19, 2012

Unlike the deeply partisan state of our current political climate, “The Campaign” rarely gets really nasty. Sure, there are moments in which things get inappropriate - such as when Will Ferrell’s character Cam Brady right hooks a toddler in the face - but is there anyone who is really for punching babies in the face?

Like many a political figure on the campaign trail, the film is filled with promise and potential. Brady is a fourth-term congressman from North Carolina, ready to seal his next unopposed victory and siphon off the benefits of his position. That is, until two über-wealthy industrialists named the Motch Brothers (played by John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd, in an obvious nod - in part - to the much-funnier “Trading Places) discover a political window left wide open, allowing a blizzard of money to blow in.

They ensnare the socially awkward son of an established political family to run against Brady by pouring millions into his campaign, which would, in turn, allow them to open a Chinese-owned production facility in the tiny town and amass a further fortune to their empire. The brothers have their work cut out for them with their pick, though. Marty Huggins (played by Zach Galafianakis) is about as fit for politics as ??????. The pudgy, Pug-loving, uptight misfit is essentially a riff on the role of twin brother “Seth Galafianakis” the comedian has played in the past.

When Marty drops off his candidacy credentials, Cam smells blood in the political pond and feeds like a “Shark Week” superstar. He immediately unearths a number of embarassing, unflattering nuggets of information ( Marty works out at Curves, was in a high school a capaella group, etc.) that sets the tone for the slinging of mud to follow. Intially devastated, Marty digs in his sensible Crocs and gets equally as nasty.

But whether at their lowest points of below-the-belt attacks, or flickering moments of civility, you never get the feeling that anything is truly earned, as neither take the shape of fully formed characters. One moment, Cam feels regret that his son is playing dirty to win a spot as class president of his high school, but has never once expressed regret in any of his actions before this, and the son has been nothing more than a campaign prop until that very scene, so who cares what he does?

Marty, too, for that matter, is quick to well up with tears at the when he makes his big speech of “this dog bites,” it’s about as threatening as a growl from his pug. Galafianakis and Ferrell are capable of some brilliantly tangential comedy (check out “Funny or Die’s” “Between Two Ferns” for proof of how boldly funny Galafianakis can make a sketch), and when you realize “The Campaign” is directed by Jay Roach, who not only helmed “Austin Powers,” but successfully dabbled in political satire with “Game Change” and “Recount,” you realize just how much more potential the film held.

It’s actually closer to the director’s 2010 effort “Dinner for Schmucks” with Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, which was about as funny as a blood clot. It, too, featured two sharp, experienced comedians in nothing more than a series of sketches that felt pasted together and rushed to screen. “The Campaign” does feature far more funny bits, but they are just that, like scraps of confetti littering the floor of a failed run for candidacy.

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