Fellow Americans, this movie is timely – if nothing else. While skewering political candidates has become many comedians’ bread ‘n’ butter, it is duck soup to Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.
Opening with Ross Perot’s oft-quoted 1988 campaign statement: “War has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules,” the story introduces a firmly entrenched North Carolina incumbent, slick Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), who is challenged for his Congressional seat by idealistic, insecure Marty Higgins (Zach Galifianakis), the dim-witted, squeaky-voiced son of a local landowner (Brian Cox). Higgins’ campaign is financed by the manipulative Motch brothers (John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd) who are secretly planning to build a factory in his district and “insource” a cheap Chinese labor force. To prepare Higgins and his hapless wife (Sarah Baker) for the race, stern, black-suited Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermot) is dispatched as his campaign manager.
Based on a flimsy story by Adam McKay, Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell and broadly directed by Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Fockers”), it’s raunchy and lowbrow with an anti-corruption platform. With its satirical slogan -“America – Jesus – Freedom” – the absurdist political mockery is non-partisan, although there are obvious references to Anthony Weiner’s crude internet gaffes and John Edwards’ sexual promiscuity and $400 haircut. The ‘punching-a-baby’ gag from the trailer is utilized not once but twice, the second time involving Uggie, the lovable pooch from “The Artist.” But the biggest laughs come when pseudo-religious Brady is asked to lead the Lord’s Prayer and he riffs into, “Give us this day our daily pizza.” And the Motch brothers reference the influential, real-life Koch brothers/financiers.
Talking-head television commentators Chris Matthews, Mika Brezinski, Bill Maher, Joe Scarborough and Wolf Blitzer cement the avid media’s scandal-drenched coverage as Cam Brady candidly confesses, “I have made, in my lifetime, probably over 100,000 phone calls – of which maybe one percent have been inappropriate.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Campaign” is a vulgar, mildly amusing, stupid 6, an uneven, superficial “Saturday Night Live” skit that goes on too long.