Details: (M), In Cinemas 9 August 2012, United States, English
Synopsis: Two rival North Carolina politicians (Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis) with presidential aspirations tangle with one another in an election campaign.
Crude political satire is absurd and light on for laughs.
not one character is even remotely credible
It’s hard to nominate the most cringe-making moment in The Campaign, an ungainly mash-up of broad political satire and gross-out comedy: there are so many contenders.
Maybe it’s Will Ferrell calling his married mistress’s answer phone as he fantasises about kissing each other’s buttholes while her horrified family listens. Or one of Zach Galifianakis’ sons confessing he let a goat lick his penis during a visit to a petting zoo.
Perhaps outranking both is a scene where Will takes a swing at Zach while they’re trying to be the first to kiss a baby, Zach ducks and Will punches the kid in the face.
Such politically incorrect set-ups may be warranted if they’re amusing but here the overall effect is excruciatingly unfunny. Compounding the problem is that not one character in this highly fictionalised world of American politics is even remotely credible, a chronic defect in the screenplay by Chris Henchy (who showed a sharper touch with The Other Guys) and Shawn Harwell (TV’s Eastbound & Down).
Ferrell is in familiar territory as Cam Brady, a smug, smarmy Republican congressman and aspiring Vice President in North Carolina whose re-election seems assured as he’s running unopposed.
That’s until Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins announces he’s a candidate for the Democrats. Marty is a shambling tram tour guide and highly unlikely political material but he’s been handpicked by billionaire industrialists, the Motch brothers (John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd), a thinly veiled swipe at real-life brothers David and Charles Koch, who donate millions to conservative and libertarian groups such as the Tea Party.
The Motches plan to build several factories in North Carolina, staffed with low-paid workers imported from China, and aim to get the unwitting Marty elected as their stooge to implement their plan.
They install the cunning, manipulative Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) as his campaign manager and he gives Marty, his wife, two kids and their house a make-over. Marty’s transformation from a bumbling simpleton into a serious, plausible-sounding candidate is nothing short of miraculous and entirely unbelievable.
Cam initially shrugs off his opponent but changes his mind after his call to his mistress leaks to the media and his approval ratings plummet. After Marty wins a debate about creating jobs, Cam counter-attacks with the help of his glib campaign manager Mitch (Jason Sudeikis). At a face-off at a country club, Cam ridicules Marty’s childhood (he was called “tickleshits” because when he was tickled, well you can guess the rest), his chubbiness and his family.
The mudslinging reaches ludicrous levels when Cam runs ads linking his adversary to Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and 9/11, and the gloves are off. But any sympathy one might feel for Marty-as-victim soon vanishes as he proves he’s just as ruthless, devious and unprincipled.
The whole premise is so preposterous that when the film does try to make a few serious points about honesty in politics and the corrupting influence of big money, these carry no weight.
Ferrell plays Cam like a cross between his vacuous George W. Bush impersonation on Saturday Night Live and a sexually voracious Bill Clinton, minus the intellect and political savvy. Galifianakis affects an odd lisp as he struggles with a role that simply exchanges one caricature for another.
Brian Cox looks uncomfortable, as well he might, as Marty’s rich and disillusioned father and Josh Lawson bobs up briefly as his brother.
The tactic of having American political gurus and TV hosts provide a running commentary backfires as it merely reinforces the yawning gap between what really happens in politics and these absurd confections.
Director Jay Roach brings a similar mindset to these antics that he honed on the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents films, with none of the political acuity he demonstrated on HBO’s Game Change.
Also running counter to the haphazard attempts at humour is a pronounced misogynist streak, typified by a humiliating scene involving Marty’s portly wife Mitzi (Sarah Baker) and a ‘gag’ about the elder Huggins’ Asian maid speaking like an African-American to appease her boss.
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