A film review by Craig J. Koban August 15, 2012


2012, R, 85 mins.


Cam Brady: Will Ferrell / Marty Huggins: Zach Galifianakis / Mitch: Jason Sudeikis / Tim Wattley: Dylan McDermott / Rose Brady: Katherine LaNasa / Mitzi Huggins: Sarah Baker / Glenn Motch: John Lithgow / Wade Motch: Dan Aykroyd / Raymond Huggins: Brian Cox

Directed by Jay Roach / Written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell

It’s not that THE CAMPAIGN isn’t funny as a comedy, but as a scathing political satire that lampoons America’s elected officials and the lengths they will go to in order to get into office, the film lacks a corrosive bite.  The central gag of THE CAMPAIGN is that the political process in the U.S. is ripe with two-timing phonies that will flip flop between just about any issue to achieve victory, and on those levels the film achieves a level of spirited and idiotic fun that’s hard not to chuckle at.  Yet, the whole enterprise is perhaps too shallow minded, too moronic, too infantile, and – especially in its conclusion – far too upbeat to work as a sharp, savvy, and deeply cynical political satire.   

Yet, the film has the dynamic pairing of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, sharing time on screen, throwing vanity and caution to the wind and willing to look as silly as possible to get a laugh.  Because of this, THE CAMPAIGN typically maintains an unpredictable comic energy.  Written by EASTBOUND AND DOWN writers Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, the film introduces us to Cam Brady (Ferrell), an America, freedom, and Jesus loving conservative incumbent that desperately wants to hold on to his Congressional seat in North Carolina’s 14th District.  He’s got the look and manner of a politician, but he’s as fake as a three-dollar bill: at one hilarious point – to curb the favor of blue collar workers – he states that his father “worked with his hands…as a head stylist for Vidal Sassoon.”   

Cam’s ultra-Christian and law abiding images as a man of the people is shattered when he accidentally leaves a borderline pornographic message with what he thinks is his mistress' answering machine…but turns out to be a militantly spiritual family’s machine (whoops).  Enter filthy rich and ultra corrupt businessmen, Glen (John Lithgow) and Wade Motch (Dan Aykroyd) that want to seize the opportunity of Cam’s public humiliation to lure in a rival candidate (Cam was running unopposed) to face off against Cam for the Republican ticket, all as part of a sinister and sickening scheme to profit from dealings with Chinese companies to “insource” cheap labor into America (yes, the opposite of outsourcing).  They find their perfect dupe in Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), who just happens to be the son of one of their associates (Brian Cox). 



Marty is the exact opposite of Cam: wholesome minded, innocent, and overall a meager man of principle and high ideals.  Before being hand-picked by the Motch brothers he was a Southern tour guide, father and husband, and all-around dweeb that has the general disposition of being the worst possible candidate to face off against the shark-like Cam.   Yet, the Motchs hire the services of a slimeball campaign manager (a surprisingly funny Dylan McDermott) that makes it his soul mission to transform this tubby and good-natured country bumpkin into a ferocious, take-no-prisoners political rival.  Realizing that Marty is the real deal and facing the first real test of his return to office, Cam begins an all-out assault to discredit him, while Marty himself begins to see a test of his character by lowering himself to Cam’s deplorable level to fight back. 

To be fair, THE CAMPAIGN does maintain an intermittently amusing level of orchestrated silly madness all through the Cam versus Marty showdown.  There are a few scenes in particular that made me uncontrollable guffaw, one would be during a one truly awkward debate where Marty challenges Cam to recite the Lord’s Prayer (in hopes of calling him out on his false Conservative minded worldview), which leaves the hapless Cam pathetically searching for the words.  Cam’s campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis) swoops in and – off camera – mimes the words of the prayer to Cam so he can recite them, with mixed results ("Give us this day…our daily pizza” he pathetically deadpans at one point).  Then there’s a moment – that I think is supposed to echo a similar infamous incident with Dick Cheney – as both Marty and Cam try to claim votes by appearing at a hunting expedition: when Marty shows up he gets out of his campaign van, shoots Cam in the leg, and then gets back in and leaves.  Hilariously, Marty’s approval rating sours. 

The film has some of the most outrageous and politically incorrect and inappropriate campaign TV ads ever committed to screen.  One involves Marty luring in Cam’s estranged son and convincing him to call him “Dad.”  When it airs it enrages Cam so much that he, in turn, seduces Marty’s wife, has sex with her, after which he uses the hidden tape of it as part of his rebuttal campaign ad.  The rivalry becomes so heated and preposterous at times that Cam finds himself not only accidentally punching a baby in the face in front of dozens of cameras, but he later accidentally punches Augie, the dog from, yes, THE ARTIST  (damn, this guy just can’t catch a break).  There are times when you laugh at what’s transpiring on screen and then instantly mock yourself for laughing at such nonsense. 

THE CAMPAIGN is definitely hysterical in dosages, but it regretfully never finds solid, assured, and consistent footing as a sure-fire laughfest.  I couldn’t help but notice that the film – like the very recent and very dreadful THE WATCH – seems to methodically go out of its way to use lazy minded and pointless vulgarity and crudeness for no other creative purpose other than to secure an R-rating.  Cam in particular seems to crave going on an everlasting bombardment of F-bomb laced diatribes that never seem to accent gags, but instead are used for the soul purpose of getting laughs.  More often than not, the film confuses being rude, lewd, and foul mouthed with being edgy and smart.

Considering that the film is directed by Jay Roach (who previously helmed two very well made politically themed HBO films in RECOUNT and GAME CHANGE), THE CAMPAIGN’s satire is limp wrested, shoots at easy fish-in-a-barrel targets (unethical campaign tactics, unscrupulous politicians, monotonous cable news cycles, the fickle voting population, etc.) and never daringly goes for the jugular, which all great incendiary satires do.  Perhaps what’s even harder to digest is that the film is wall-to-wall with dirty talk and madcap campaign trail shenanigans and then proceeds to a feel-good and inanely sentimental climax that never once rings truthfully, even for loony and juvenile material like this.  In the end, THE CAMPAIGN is not as razor sharp witted as it should have been as a parody of the political process.  Combining buffoonery and cartoon-like hysterics with satire is a thorny dichotomy to pull off, but the film, more or less, goes the safer route of simple-minded buffoonery.  

There is one hilarious running gag that is a bit shocking and edgy.  Marty’s father is such a toxic racist that he forces his Asian housekeeper to speak in a grossly exaggerated African American accent just to appease his bigoted needs.   THE CAMPAIGN needed more scathing moments of social commentary like that and less baby and dog punching.

  H O M E