The election season continues to heat up in the states as campaign ads litter the television screen. Controversy over who said what and the promises candidates are making to the American people involving change, moving forward and creating a better country seems to be the only thing on folk’s mind. It’s during these tense times when the country is most divided over these issues that people need to see the despicably laughable nature of American politics and The Campaign attempts to offer just that.
Democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is running for his fifth consecutive unopposed election in North Carolina’s 14th District. The victory seems all but in the bag until Brady accidently leaves a sexually explicit voicemail on a local family’s phone and not his intended mistress. Glen (John Lithgow) and Wade Motch (Dan Aykroyd) are corrupt businessmen and brothers who see the mistake as an opportunity to get some fresh blood in office so they can “insource” jobs — that is, bring foreign companies to America and set up factories run by cheap foreign labour. The two decide to endorse one of their associate’s sons, the dimwitted tourism director Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) on the Republican ticket.
Directed by Jay Roach, The Campaign is a political comedy that’s never quite smart or biting enough to be considered satire. The closest it gets to satire are the moments when the film asks the audiences to consider where the money comes from to finance these campaigns. At one point we see the Motch brothers on trial while a laundry list of unethical bribery accusations are read out only to be told they aren’t actually crimes, though the feeling seems to imply they should be.
The supporting cast of Dylan McDermott, Brian Cox and Jason Sudeikis proves to be funny but seemed to be too heavily relied upon for humour. Tim Wattley (McDermott) is a no nonsense campaign consultant for Huggins that can break a person with a look, and is happiest when he’s controlling the lives of his candidate. Lithgow and Aykroyd show signs of comical potential but that is all, ultimately rendering their characters entirely void of any sort of necessity or value.
Where this film is at its best is in the banter between characters, especially Brady and Huggins. Their first debate is marked by Huggins attempt to trash talk Brady. After attempting to say Brady will “smell his own toot-farts”, Brady holds back laughter at Huggins attempt before unleashing a slue of vulgarities culminating in Brady forcing Huggins to feel “a real mans nuts.” When these two men actually do start discussing politics neither actually say anything, instead choosing to fire off buzzwords that test positive with focus groups. This explains Brady’s campaign slogan of “America. Jesus. Freedom.”
The fault of this film is its reliance on the memory of Ferrell doing George W. Bush. Yes, it was hysterical — and still is really — but Cam Brady is not Bush. The Campaign does provide quite a few laughs but after watching it one can’t help but consider this would’ve been a better concept for a sketch on Saturday Night Live or even a series of fake ads on Ferrell’s website Funny or Die. It’s good to laugh at the things that cause so much tension amongst people but this film just comes off too rushed and offers comedy through creative cursing rather than satire that ought to make you think about something more.