Jay Roach — coming off of the Sarah Palin HBO movie, Game Change — brings us The Campaign, a movie too over the top to be considered successful satire, too vacuous and empty to create any investments in the characters, and too scattered and messy to be considered an actual good film. But it is funny. At times, it’s ugly-laugh hysterical. There’s nary an ounce of wit in The Campaign, but if you’re looking for a movie that will produce snorts of embarrassed laughter, Will Ferrel and Zach Galifianakis’ political comedy will do the trick.
The approach taken in The Campaign is not that unlike Anchorman: Ferrell and Galifianakis push the absurdity of a political campaign past the breaking point, then kick the breaking point in its pretty little teeth and while it’s bleeding from its mouth, they have sex with the breaking point’s mom. Jay Roach forsakes any honest attempt to draw real-world parallels with an actual campaign fairly quickly, taking a brief stop to skewer the false sentiments of empty platitudes of political speeches and advancing quickly toward full-out baby-punching. It’s actually refreshing, in a way, that there’s no credible attempt to politicize a movie about politics: It’s little more than a series of loosely connected gags driven by the manic bluster of Ferrell and the Ned-Flandering of Galifianakis. Indeed, the more The Campaign barrels out of control, the funnier it gets.
Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a sort of beyond-the-pale mash-up of George W. Bush and John Edwards. He’s a five-term Congressman in North Carolina running unopposed for a sixth term until he leaves a filthy message to his mistress on the wrong person’s answering machine. Spotting an opening, the Moche Brothers — John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd playing a sort of contemporary Randolph and Mortimer — decide to enter Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), the hapless and weird son of a famed political strategist (Brian Cox), into the race for the purposes of making him their pawn in a scheme to “in-source” Chinese sweat shops into America (it saves on shipping!). That Huggins is an effete and bizarre man with no political experience and an obese and unattractive family is part of the allure for the Moche Brothers: They see it as a challenge, and immediately hire Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermot) to turn him into a real political candidate.
It’s a quick-paced movie, and clocking in at 85 minutes, Jay Roach doesn’t waste any time establishing character or bothering to work his way up to completely absurd. He basically starts there with the baby-punching incident, and Brady and Huggins work their way down the sophomoric hiney-hole, one-upping each other with a series of gags each more outrageously laughable than the last. To reveal them would ruin some of the comedy surprise, but for illustrative purposes, I will say that intentionally shooting your opponent in the leg on a hunting trip polls really well with constituents.
The Campaign is brimming with hilarious moments, Ferrell and Galafianakis make a great comedy duo, and Jason Sudeikis — who plays Brady’s campaign manager — adds an extra few jolts of waggish hilarity. Still, it’s not quite the success of Anchorman or even The Other Guys. The Campaign doesn’t really hold together as a movie inasmuch as a skillfully pieced together a series of dumb jokes, but they are dumb jokes that work most of the time. It might have been more felicitous during a political year if The Campaign had made a more subtle attempt to skewer modern politics, but if it had, it wouldn’t have produced as many pants-shittingly funny moments. The Campaign doesn’t aspire to much more than deliciously raunchy juvenilia, but in that at least, it’s a huge success.