There really isn’t a better time for a movie like The Campaign to be released in theaters. As the campaign for the 2012 presidential election gears up, satirical and often outrageous parodies of everything that perceived to be wrong with politics come front and center, and when two comedic powerhouses such as Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis throw their hats into the rings, the result is nothing short of crude, vulgar, and downright hilarious.
Such is The Campaign, a short yet riotous comedy directed by Jay Roach that follows the political battle between an incumbent Democrat and challenging Republican. Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a North Carolina Congressman that preaches family values and American exceptionalism. Unfortunately, he’s also a lecherous womanizer whose favor with the American people dwindles after accidentally leaving an X-rated message on the answering machine of an unsuspecting family, with his campaign manager, played by Jason Sudeikis in a woefully underutilized role, providing the sole voice of reason to his inevitable downward spiral.
In an attempt to boot Brady out of office and replace him with someone who will play their game (in this case allow North Carolina to play host to Chinese-populated factories), the Motch Brothers, played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, call upon their friend, a bitter former politician played by Brian Cox, to recruit a Republican candidate to run against Brady. In this case it’s his dim-witted yet good-natured son Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis.
What follows is a less-than-subtle parody of the modern political arena, filled with all manner of underhanded tactics you’ve come to expect from modern day politicians. Marty simply wants to save his town, but as he comes under the tutelage of the sinister Tim Wattley, played by Dylan McDermott, a smooth talking and tough-as-nails campaign manager sent by the Motch Brothers to mold Huggins into the politician they want him to be, his aspirations slowly devolve into a strong-headed rivalry that leaves both Huggins and Brady using every dirty trick in the book to cause the other to lose favor. Each tries to outdo the other with bizarre political ads and stunts, which forms the backbone of the movie, while humorous non-sequiturs ensure the movie is more than just a running gag beaten into the ground.
While much of the parody doesn’t reference anything save for broad stroke political posturing and rivalries – I can’t recall a candidate ever punching a baby in the face – real-life references abound, most notably the evil puppet masters the Motch Brothers, an obvious parallel to the real life political snakes the Koch Brothers. Here Lithgow and Aykroyd are positively evil, the immorality of their actions set to mirror those of not just the Koch Brothers, but everyone who seeks to gain political favor by spending wads of cash.
It’s positively engaging to see Galifianakis play an actual character rather than himself, thus giving the world a bit of respite from anything Todd Phillips does. Huggins, molded after Zach’s “brother” Seth Galifianakis, undergoes a series of transformations without ever truly abandoning what makes him such a unique – and bizarre – individual; politics sways him, but not in the way that you might think. The same can be said for Ferrell, albeit slightly less so, as his “Ferrell-ness” comes out in full force, yet tempered by the type of character he’s playing. The well-paced and hilarious script, penned by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, suits these two comedians, both of which bring a sort of sameness to the table while still being wholly unique; it is, in a way, an apt metaphor for bi-partisan politics.
The Campaign takes no sides, lambasting both parties equally while taking numerous pot shots at the inherent problems associated with politics. It clocks in at only 85 minutes, but that’s plenty of time to keep the laughs rolling from minute one.