The Campaign *** (out of five)
The Campaign, the new comedic venture from Gary Sanchez Productions (Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s company) and Everyman Pictures, and under the direction of Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents), stars Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as two candidates up for a congressional seat in North Carolina. Ferrell’s Cam Brady is not only the incumbent, he’s used to running unopposed; Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins (a terrific comedy name by any measure) is a stooge, set up to run by two brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, whose casting obviously references the older brothers played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy in Trading Places) who wish to use him to draft laws allowing them to sell huge chunks of the state to China so they can build a mega-sweatshop. Along the campaign trail, mirth – and occasional hilarity – ensues.
The Campaign is far from the smartest comedy ever made about American politics, but it’s not trying for that distinction. Its natural shelf-mates are Anchorman and The Good Guys (both Ferrell / McKay ventures) rather than Bob Roberts, The Candidate or Bulworth, let alone Being There. The comedy is broad and coarse, and often extremely funny. Ferrell’s Cam Brady is a buffoon, and Galifianakis’ Huggins is famous for pooing his pants when he gets tickled. So sharp satire it ain’t. Rather, it’s big, over-the-top, goofball, “dumb” comedy that happens to be set during an election. It could have been set almost anywhere; the point if the conflict between the two mismatched candidates, and they work very well off each other. There’s strong support from Dylan McDermott as a slick campaign manager, Katherine LaNasa as Cam’s sexy, scheming, politically aroused wife, Jason Sudeikis as Cam’s small-town but honest campaign manager, and, particularly funny despite very little screen time, Brian Cox as Marty’s dad.
While there are some arid stretches between really good jokes, and definitely a few formulaic elements that swim against the film’s edgy credentials (it’s at its bet when its at its most outrageous), there are some deliriously funny scenes that certainly put it in the list of Ferrell and McKay’s “plus” column. It might not make you any more of an insider to the workings of American politics, but it will make you laugh.