Director: Jay Roach
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Gary Sanchez Productions
Jay Roach directed Game Change and Recount, so it’s safe to say the guy has a thing or two to say about the American landscape of guns, outsourcing, Super PACs, dirty political tricks, attack ads and the best democracy money can buy. No one’s going to confuse his new comedy The Campaign, from a Chris Henchy-Shawn Harwell (Eastbound and Down) script, for a sharp, blistering satire of a political system in which candidates will do or say whatever their biggest donors want them to. This one’s a low, crude, hit-or-miss comedy, although a sometimes funny one.
It’s about the bitter fight between a pair of North Carolina congressional rivals, a four-term incumbent played by Will Ferrell (a rich, dim-witted, smug, womanizing empty suit) and the dark horse played by Zach Galifianakis (a middle-class, sweet spirited, mincing, bad sweater–wearing “family man”). A mistakenly rerouted obscene phone call to a mistress and Ferrell’s general inability to keep it in his trousers panics his billionaire backers, the shadowy, election-manipulating Motch brothers, played by John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd – although someone on the movie must know that the real-life kingmakers pronounce their names like Coke, not Kotch. Scrambling to find a new candidate to front for them, the brothers pluck out of obscurity the feckless, Bible-spouting tour guide and least favorite son of a nasty former political strategist (Brian Cox). For its first 45 minutes or so, the movie isn’t much more than a loose-limbed, anything-for-a-laugh series of skits involving the candidates brawling way too close to a poor little infant, Ferrell on the stump trail spewing his tired mantra of “America, freedom and Jesus!”, failing to properly recite The Lord’s Prayer (despite Charades-style prompting from campaign manager Jason Sudeikis) and trolling for the evangelical vote by messing around with snakes. But at least all of it is stupidly funny, with an occasionally well aimed satiric slam at know-nothing political hucksters to liven things up. Even though the movie runs only 87 minutes, a potentially good, nasty satiric premise runs out of steam about halfway through.
The chuckles become repetitive as The Campaign lumbers toward a phony upbeat “redemption” finale, despite the efforts of costars like Karen Maruyama who gets laughs as the Asian housekeeper paid to bug out her eyes and spout maxims from the Old South like a domestic out of The Help. Ferrell and Galifianakis, too, are in very good form, with the latter especially skilled at finding the innate dignity and heart under the doofus. It would be hard to imagine even a Tea Partier accusing the woolly-headed movie of promoting an agenda — even the bluntest satiric arrows are tipped in Styrofoam and rose petals — but dumber, wackier things have happened. For most, The Campaign is just plain old silly summer fun.