The Campaign (2012)

Directed by Jay Roach
Written by Chris Henchy & Shawn Harwell

With the fall election season pretty much already upon all of us, the climate for a politically incorrect, political comedy is ripe for the cinematic picking. We are already seeing the mudslinging TV ads from our best local senators and even at the national level with the Presidential race heating up. It never ceases to amaze me the culture of American politics. Big money seems to rule the day, funding these campaigns for candidates who would do anything, including lie, cheat and steal, to make it into office, an office which is supposed to be reserved for the best and brightest this country has to offer. Political statement aside, it does seem to lend itself pretty ideally to the world of raunchy comedies led by the likes of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, who star in this film.

Congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) is the incumbent for the seat of the 14th district of North Carolina, a seat he has held for four terms because he has never had to run against an opponent. But when the evil Motch brothers (John Lithgow & Dan Aykroyd) of Washington try to shake things up by finding a candidate who will “insource” jobs from China to the 14th District, so they hand pick oddball Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) for the task, only he doesn’t know about the plan, running against Brady on a  Hurrah, “It’s a Mess” platform. The race heats up, leaving Brady and his campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis) scrambling to hold the seat they have held uncontested for so long. And the idealistic Huggins soon finds himself wrapped up in the gritty political world when he falls in with the Motch brothers and their strict, appointed campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott).

I tend to put a lot of stake in the director of a film, in this case Jay Roach. Roach has seen good success in the film world, and in particular the comedy world, directing the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents series (but thankfully for him not Little Fockers). He even received critical acclaim for his political drama Recount, which would seem to qualify him perfectly for a political comedy such as this one, but sadly the film mostly falls flat, featuring a very episodic feel. Screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell must have had a slew of hilarious political scenes in mind, but no way to tie them all together into a single coherent plot that involves solid characters. Instead it was a mess of characters doing things that were funny, but not necessarily things that I was convinced they might do.

The film was funny, I certainly laughed on numerous occasions. It takes the mold of a typical raunchy comedy though, so if that doesn’t amuse you, neither would this film. These characters are mostly not characters at all, in fact they are caricatures built to meet the needs of the film. In some cases the political incorrectness bordered on offensive. Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins speaks in an effeminate voice, which is intended to be funny to us. But even worse may be the maid of Marty’s father, Mrs. Yao, who is an older Asian American who has been ordered to talk like an old black mammy to remind Mr. Huggins of the “good ‘ol days”. The film walks the line between using these tactics as parody against them, highlighting their ludicrous nature, and simply using them for a laugh because they know they can get it out of the audience.

To the film’s credit, it does a good job of satirizing the whole political campaigning process. The Marty Huggins character reminded me just a tinge of Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith in his idealism and drive, but eventually Marty is just as broken by the system as his opponent. The cast was mostly middle of the road. Ferrell and Galifianakis were their usual selves, which is neither this nor that at this point. Aykroyd and Lithgow were either supremely underused, or played perfectly since both seemed to be phoning in their small roles. Dylan McDermott was surprising in the role of hard edged Wattley, though probably an easier role. I did find Jason Sudeikis to be quite good, which is also a shame given his limited role in the film. The power duo of Ferrell/Galifianakis don’t reach the comedic heights they have climbed before, there are no classic lines or memorable scenes, but The Campaign does manage enough laughs to not make it a waste. It jumps from gag to gag, using a generic template of a plot to attempt to structure the antics of these two off beat congressional candidates.

**1/2 – Good


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