Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudekis
You may like this if you liked: Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008), Horrible Bosses (Seth Gordon, 2011), Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004)
Congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) is basically a political Ron Burgundy who has run unopposed in his small Carolina district of Hammond for decades. Unfortunately after a faux pas when he leaves a sordid message intended for his mistress on the phone of a Christian family his popularity dips slightly. Clichéd bad guys and millionaire industrialists the Moch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd) see an opportunity to gain power here so they can make a huge profit from basically opening huge Chinese sweatshops in Hammond and only employing low paid Chinese workers. To make sure this will be allowed they choose a naive but good willed local idiot called Marty Huggins (Galifianakis – who else?) to oppose Brady. They hire Tim Wattley (an evil Dylan McDermott) as Marty’s campaign manager to make sure he represents the American dream and beats Brady in the election.
Maybe I am turning into a hard to please cynical sod these days but I am consistently getting the disappointing feeling of unrealised potential when I watch a film. Unfortunately The Campaign was another for me that fits into this category. All the ingredients were there for a topical and satirical laugh out loud comedy. This of course did come out not long after the US election and I remember when watching the coverage that just as with British politics the comedy constantly writes itself. Throw in a typical over the top Ferrell and Galifianakis playing it typically naive and stupid, and then surely this could not fail.
Unfortunately The Campaign is very enjoyable and did have for me some genuinely funny moments, but always feels quite restrained with a focus more on visual gross out comedy that seems to dominate mainstream comedy these days. I am not asking for biting satire with a real message behind it, but the script is disappointingly weak with quite a basic story of bad guys against good guys. There may be an element of complacency here that those behind it thought the same as me about the potential and assumed they would not have to try that hard to actually make it funny. The fact is that comedy is extremely hard to get right and if those involved complacently assume a film will be funny just because it has all the right components are quite frankly insulting their audience. When in real politics the comedy tends to write itself this just feels frustratingly lazy. The inevitable conclusion does feel, well inevitable and though I understand why it has to be there, it is extremely cheesy and clichéd. Ferrell is obviously warming up for his Anchorman sequel and gets all the laughs and limelight with his constant OTT ad lobbing. Unfortunately this all feels quite a tiresome formula now and rarely generates the laughs intended of course apart from when he punches a baby. There are indeed plenty of comedy set pieces that should be funny, but for me were mildly amusing but no more and I must confess I found watching the actual presidential campaign or indeed the British general election campaigns funnier at times.
The Campaign is an entertaining, watchable and occasionally funny take on the political system that can be applied to any western democracy. Unfortunately it frequently fails to be funnier than the actual real gaffs and faux pas of actual political campaigns and just feels like a warm up gig for Ferrell’s Anchorman sequel.