American politics is as ripe for parody as just about anything, which is something that "The Campaign" runs with from the very begin. Cheerfully moronic and unabashedly dimwitted, "The Campaign" gives us a fantasy version of our election system so ridiculous that it's hard not to grin at the absurdity. After a bevy of boring roles that severely stretched for laughs, star Will Ferrell has finally found a character worthy of playing, and co-star Zach Galifianakis has some great moments on his own. Though it's much too toothless to be a real critique of the political system, "The Campaign" is a light comedy that has just enough funny gags to outweigh its blunders.
"America, Jesus, Freedom," recites congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) at the beginning of "The Campaign." We may laugh at the simplicity, but these are the words that every major politician should know by heart, and Cam has mastered the art of spinning everything back to one of these main three issues. Cam may be as clueless as possible, but he's able to get by simply being as vague as the English language allows and reasserting how profoundly patriotic his intentions are. He may not actually read the bills he's asked to vote on, but fooling the populous into electing him has been a breeze for years. All he needs is his trusty advisor Mitch (Jason Sudeikis).
But being an unopposed congressman has started to get to Cam, who doesn't seem to be built for surviving the media age. Perhaps growing bored by being the obvious victor every election, Cam nearly commits career suicide when he hooks up with a beautiful campaign supporter in broad daylight - in a port-a-potty no less. When his approval starts to drop, Cam suddenly realizes that maybe he's not as invincible as he thought.
Enter Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a hopelessly simple-minded oddball who is so kind and bizarre that he's fairly easy to root for. Like many of Galifianakis' characters, Marty is an 11-year-old in a grown up body, complete with all the natural naiveté of someone who has simply refused to observe any of the complexity of the world. Normally, Marty wouldn't exactly be an ideal candidate for public office, but he also happens to be the son of one of the wealthiest people in the county. When an evil, multinational corporation headed by the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) needs to dump Cam Brady for a more suitable candidate, Marty suddenly becomes their unlikely champion. He may not be ideal, yet they believe that with the right campaign manager and coach, Marty can kick Cam to the curb.
As master campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) whips Marty into shape, "The Campaign" strikes a somewhat similar tone to director Jay Roach's excellent HBO film "Game Change," another movie about a political figure not ready for the scrutiny of election season. In "Game Change," Roach painted a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of Sarah Palin, who stormed the national scene only to be exposed as blatantly unfit to be Vice President of the U.S. Here, Roach paints with a much wider brush and limits the political realism, which leads to a childish back-and-forth grudge match between the two candidates that's so ridiculous that any relevance the movie might have had is completely shredded.
But even though "The Campaign" can't be taken as a real satire of American politics, it's probably for the best. Despite the annoying adherence to slapstick and toilet-level humor, it does tap into the general fear that elections are - and maybe have always been - little more than a circus with no direct correlation to picking the right candidate. Ironically enough, just as with real world politics, the tremendous complexity of the political system instead boils down to sound bites and misguided smear ads. There is also a funny running joke that mocks the fickle and absurd nature of potential voters, who change their minds on every little thing no matter how frivolous. You may think that a candidate having extra-marital sex with a young hottie would ruin a career, but slap a photo of Cam Brady and Bill Clinton together and suddenly men are more likely to vote Cam's way.
"The Campaign" also wisely doesn't choose a political side, as pitting them as Republicans versus Democrats would do little good anyway. At one point, a young intern tells Cam about how horrible it is that companies get tax breaks after shipping jobs off to China. Instead of picking a side, Cam is simply appalled that they're talking about such issues when they could be talking about more important stuff, like how Marty's beard makes him resemble a member of Al Qaeda. Though the smear ads we see in "The Campaign" are much too absurd to even be made in the real world, they're still not much more misleading than many of the election ads we'll see over the next few months.
"The Campaign" is far from a great comedy, but it is a pretty entertaining one. Perhaps more than anything, it's good to see Ferrell back as a character that is such a natural fit that it's hard to imagine anyone else playing him. Though anyone looking for a pointed diatribe of the election system will probably be disappointed, there are still some clever satirical elements placed in the background for the more serious viewer. "The Campaign" may oversimplify the issues, or sometimes blatantly hide them, but you don't get elected to congress in the U.S. without having a few tricks up your sleeve.
by RTT Staff Writer
For comments and feedback: email@example.com