Director Jay Roach made his name on the broad comedy franchises Austin Powers and Meet the Parents before changing tacks in recent years with the engaging HBO political dramas Recount and Game Change. His latest effort is The Campaign, a raunchy political comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, which could have made for some sort of interesting intersection of these genres. Unfortunately the film offers nothing new or incisive in its farcical and unsubtle depiction of corruption in American politics, and the vulgar jokes are hit and miss, resulting in a forgettable film which will only appeal to fans of the comedians.
The Campaign stars Will Ferrell as long-term North Carolinian congressman Cam Brady, a slick Republican who expects to easily win the next election considering he is running unopposed. After committing an embarrassing gaffe — in which he leaves a crude message intended for his mistress on a religious family’s answering machine — his corrupt power brokers, the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, hamming it up as parodies of the Koch brothers), decide it’s time for a change. With a view to bringing cheap Chinese labour to their local factories, the brothers throw their considerable weight behind a naïve patsy, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the wimpy tour guide son of a legendary local politico (Brian Cox, slumming it). A ruthless campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) is brought in to transform Marty and his slobbish family into people the American public will actually like and vote for, and from there a no-holds-barred, mean-spirited and increasingly crass — not to mention decidedly nonpartisan — race between the two candidates ensues.
On paper, this sounds like the potential for comedy gold — and the duo do manage to get some big laughs in there — but the scatological and sexual humour is often disappointingly obvious and only occasionally funny, leaning hard on its R-rating to appeal to teenage audiences. Ferrell and Galifianakis are as committed and hilarious as ever and fans of the comedians will find much to enjoy, however, they are not served well by the predictable material and both are essentially tweaking characters we have seen before in their respective stand-up acts: Ferrell’s George W. Bush impersonation, and Galifianakis’ effeminate brother Seth. In fact, the episodical plot feels more like a series of SNL sketches than an actual narrative, reminiscent of Ferrell’s disappointing Semi-Pro rather than his superlative work with Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys). Jason Sudeikis and Katherine La Nasa, as Brady’s long-suffering campaign manager and power-hungry wife, respectively, bring surprisingly little to the table in their under-utilised roles, while McDermott is amusing as the manipulative political wizard.
In a contentious election year in the U.S., a satire of campaign financing and the divisive Citizens United decision would be timely and welcome, but nothing in Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell’s scattershot script is really more ridiculous or offensive than anything that happens in the everyday dysfunction of American politics. Roach shows no real understanding of satire or interest in anything more than middling broad comedy here, offering nothing by way of relevant commentary and favouring cheap laughs throughout (dog reaction shots!). The film’s promotion yielded more genuine laughs. The Campaign is ultimately toothless, lazy and irrelevant — barely able to fill its slight 85 minutes — and only worthwhile for audiences who can’t get enough of Ferrell and Galifianakis doing what they do best: acting like buffoons.
Watch the trailer for The Campaign below.