There is a fine line to walk when lampooning politics because once you pause to point out ugly political truths things can go from hilarious to depressing really quickly. This is the reason you don’t see a lot of rip-roaring comedies about cancer.
Good political satire is as focused as a laser and as nimble as a ninja. The movie “The Campaign” is less laser and more shotgun, and additionally less ninja and more sumo wrestler.
This is not to say there aren’t some inspired moments in the movie, thanks mostly to the natural gifts of the cast, but much like real politicians, what could have been great winds up being just so-so.
What “The Campaign” does have going for it is the pairing of comedic heavyweights Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as opposing candidates for a North Carolina congressional seat.
Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a slick Democratic incumbent who keeps returning to Washington because he’s able to run unopposed.
However, a sexual scandal and general boob-ery make Cam vulnerable and billionaire brothers Glenn (John Lithgow) and Wade Motch (Dan Aykroyd) decide to put their money behind a new candidate to act as an unwitting puppet for their corrupt corporate schemes.
The brothers’ only option turns out to be Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), the black-sheep son of Republican power-broker Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox).
Marty would probably best be described as a ninny, happily living his life as a tourism director who proudly loves sweaters, his moderately overweight family, and his two pugs.
Marty agrees to run with the best of intentions, but when given a makeover by his tough-as-nails campaign director Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), Marty is transformed into a formidable foe and the outrageous mudslinging begins in earnest.
Scathing political commentary isn’t really in the wheelhouse of director Jay Roach (best known for directing the broad and goofy “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” movies), yet in spite of his struggles with tone, he does know how to get out of the way of talented comedic actors and just let them do their thing.
“The Campaign” is redeemed in moments where Ferrell and Galifianakis do what they do best. Each actor is given a chance to shine in a few notably great scenes such as when Ferrell struggles to recite the Lord’s Prayer at a debate or when Galifianakis oversees a family-wide confessional around the dinner table.
The biggest problem with “The Campaign” is when it tries to make a legitimate point or earn a real emotional moment. Much like Aaron Sorkin is at his worst when he tries to be funny, “The Campaign” is at its worst when it tries to be sincere.
While I can’t fully endorse this movie, Ferrell and Galifianakis did make me laugh more often than not. So like most times, I enter a voting booth, I’m going to half-heartedly pull the lever and vote for “The Campaign.” The best part is I only had to live with it for 90 minutes instead of four years.
“The Campaign” is rated R for crude sexual content, language, and brief nudity.