As with any comedy, The Campaign is destined to draw mixed reactions since humour is so highly subjective. To be sure, this Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis pair-up is not a game-changing comedy like it had the potential to be in sharper hands, but I cannot deny that the film worked for me. Often hilarious and rarely boring thanks to the boundless energy afforded by reliable comedic director Jay Roach, The Campaign is a welcome offering of R-rated comedy glee. It’s forgettable mainstream fluff, but it’s always satisfying to behold a comedy which succeeds in making you laugh on a consistent basis.
For years, Democratic moron Cam Brady (Ferrell) has run unopposed as the congressman of North Carolina’s 14th District. Cam is set to retain his seat yet again without any opposing candidate, but rich industrialists The Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) want to find an easily manipulated alternative. Enter town idiot Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a shy and none-too-bright slob with an obese family. When shady campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) shows up to whip Marty into shape, the election race really begins to heats up as a more confident candidate emerges. With Cam facing stiff competition and declining popularity, war is declared, with both sides resorting to dirty tactics to taint the other’s name.
Written by Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy, The Campaign gets credit for satirising the current state of American politics in an amusing way. The satire is obvious and not especially sharp, but it nonetheless works, as the film hilariously critiques dishonesty during political debates and ridiculous attack ads, not to mention Dick Cheney’s infamous “hunting incident,” which is slyly referenced as well. Basically, the whole film boils down to an episodic succession of comedic vignettes, but this type of structuring works for these kinds of comedies, as they merely aim to spotlight their primary talent doing what they do best. And heavens me, the film works when it goes for the jugular. Ferrell and Galifianakis banter, trade insults and constantly attempt to one-up each other, generating a dependable string of big laughs as the story unfolds. Moreover, the film takes full advantage of the stupidity of each respective character, and huge belly laughs flow from this (a moment involving a police car and a cow had this reviewer sobbing with laughter).
It helps that director Roach has such a deft touch with comedy. Whereas his 2010 endeavour Dinner for Schmucks was definitely marred by its overlong runtime, The Campaign runs a brisk 85 minutes and moves at a furious pace. With a few exceptions, Roach wisely avoids dwelling for too long on certain jokes, and hence sluggish patches are rare.
First-rate technical specs aside, The Campaign‘s biggest asset is easily the cast, whose go-for-broke sensibilities are a perfect fit for the demands of the script. Ferrell’s childlike idiot persona is ideal for the realm of politics, and it’s a mystery why it’s taken so long for such a proposition to come to fruition. This isn’t a performance to win over the Ferrell haters, but fans of the actor are destined to love his work here. Meanwhile, Galifianakis has created another quirky, childish weirdo here for his role of Marty Huggins. Like Ferrell, Galifianakis’ work is not Oscar-worthy, but he’s pitch-perfect for this type of comedy, and that’s what matters. Digging into the supporting cast, there’s a surprisingly large array of talent to behold. Of particular note is Jason Sudeikis who’s hilarious as Cam’s political aid, while Dylan McDermott consistently chews the scenery and steals the spotlight as Tim Wattley. John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd and Brian Cox are also terrific.
The Campaign is clichéd and silly to be sure, but undeniably works in fits and starts, and the laugh ratio is strong enough to warrant a recommendation. Plus, the best moments weren’t spoiled in the trailers, which is absolutely miraculous. In terms of entertainment, this flick delivers, and then some. It has some huge belly laugh moments which had this reviewer rolling on the cinema floor with laughter.