It seemed like the perfect idea: a political satire to lighten up the grim atmosphere the 2012 US presidential election has created. Throw in Will Ferrell’s precise comedic timing and Zach Galifianakis’s knack for pulling off oddball characters and you’re almost guaranteed a fail-safe comedy. Almost. What The Campaign delivers is hardly satirical and funny only if you think babies and dogs getting punched in the face counts as humour.
Ferrell plays Congressman Cam Brady, a philandering oaf with a bad haircut who is looking to get re-elected for his fifth consecutive term. Brady is all set to run unopposed until one of his lewd booty calls accidentally ends up on the answering machine of a wholesome Christian family. Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) is the clueless pawn set in place by an axis of crooked corporate heads to run against Brady for their own corrupt agenda. The whole movie then becomes a bid to see which candidate stumbles into office in a comparatively less idiotic way than the other.
The plot is thin and isn’t carried anywhere by the low-brow dialogue. One expects quick, clever bites at America’s infamously theatrical political system. Instead, the viewer gets a series of preposterous events that include a sex-tape campaign ad (as in on purpose), Ferrell dancing with snakes in a religious sect (and getting bitten) and an unfortunate attempt at making us believe that it’s possible that someone could think that the third line of the Lord’s Prayer is “Aloe vera be Thy name.”
Ferrell and Galifianakis do their best with what they’re given. The few times that you catch them going off-script are probably some of the best scenes in the movie. The rest of the cast plays it safe, with Saturday Night Live veteran Jason Sudeikis coming off as a bit amateur and Dylan McDermott’s character sputtering strange one-liners that lack the quotable pith to even be called one-liners.
There are a handful of funny moments that draw you back in every once in a while. Watch out for Karen Maruyama as Huggins’s father’s Asian housekeeper who’s forced to speak with an African-American Dust Bowl accent to keep her job.
Perhaps there’s a reason why they don’t make more political comedies. It looks like there’s no happy medium between smart commentary and good laughs. If you’re looking for a far-fetched, unrealistic take on American politics, The Campaign is your movie. Otherwise, stick to following the coverage of the real-life US election – you’re likely to find funnier moments there.