Jay Roach’s morally reprehensible depiction of contemporary politics couldn’t possibly be more strategically released. Just before the fall hits and U.S. citizens cast their ballots for the 2012 Presidential elections, The Campaign comes sliding in with an unusual infusion of satire and go-for-broke comedy.
The opportunity for Roach and screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell is so golden that when the film perpetually struggles with finding both a competent tone and structure, it’s deeply disappointing.
Libertarian Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) has run five terms unopposed as Congressman for a small North Carolina district. When two big money CEOs Glen and Wade Moch (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd who are ostensibly playing the Koch brothers) recognize an opening to seize power in a middling district, they call upon the native and naïve Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) who (if elected) could cordially act as their political puppet.
The film chronicles the Democratic process unfold at its finest as these two stupefying, inane and idiotic individuals verbally battle one another through uncontrollably silly, ad-hominem grounded debates (all of which either end in brawls or a candidate punching a baby in the jugular) and downright vile attack ads (soft core porn featuring a candidate having sex with his running mate’s wife).
For the opening 45-minutes The Campaign’s overtly over-the-top approach hits the nail on the nose. Anyone who watched the Republican Presidential primary debates last year can identify with the absurdity of the candidates and the blatant deceit they spew.
Neither Brady nor Huggins takes much of a stance on any political issue. They both love Jesus and America, and their respective political ideologies are entirely irrelevant. This sort of beautiful accident makes viewing the film a non-partisan experience. The Campaign doesn’t favor left or right, just feeble-mindedness met with opportunity for heir.
If Roach had continued with satirizing the incompetence of politicians and the greediness fueling the whole Democratic apparatus, the film would be (without question) a rousing and humorous portrayal of modern America.
By the hour mark the film runs out of material – whether that be an overarching storyline or poignant observations of politics.
Ferrell and Galifianakis eventually hobble their way to the unsatisfying finish line. Even more unsatisfying though is the lack of screen time Aykroyd and Lithgow receive. These are two veteran actors that ooze corruption the second they arrive on screen, and yet are abandoned by the wayside as the film hits the same notes over and over again.
Similar to our incumbent President, The Campaign begins promising, offering us hope in a time when lowly comedy has become far too prevalent. The prospect of ingenious, biting satire slowly dissipates into an anti-climatic conclusion and revelation, exasperated by the type of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis humor more suited for films like Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, or The Hangover franchise.