Directed by: Jay Roach
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Dylan McDermott, Dan Ackroyd, John Lithgow, Brian Cox
Running time: 85 mins
Release date: September 28
Jay Roach of Austin Powers and Meet the Parents fame enters the realm of politics with The Campaign, a mildly amusing comedy that flatters to deceive.
Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) prepares to stand unopposed for re-election in North Carolina, until a series of gaffes prompt unscrupulous corporate backers the Motch brothers (Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow) to rethink their strategy. The duo decide to instead throw their weight behind the portly and effeminate Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), who they hope will do their bidding upon his ascension to power. A political novice, the unassuming Huggins accepts the challenge in an effort to please his father Raymond (Brian Cox), with whom he has a fractured relationship.
Ferrell and Galifianakis’ considerable talent is evident as they deliver solid performances. Ferrell’s Brady is crude while maintaining a roguish charm and Galifianakis’ Huggins brings his own brand of cheerful naievete to the table, even if his character is not as well charted out in the script as it could be. Director Roach has said that his goal was to create a cage where “they’d have to beat the crap out of each other”, but the reality is far different, and the confrontational scenes between the pair lack any real enmity.
The business of political elections is thoroughly ridiculed in The Campaign, but this is hardly cutting satire. Roach depicts a xenophobic, self-regarding, proudly militaristic America where religious faith is a prerequisite for aspiring politicians and the fear of a nascent Chinese superpower haunts the subconscious of the electorate. But despite this breezy cynicism the underlying message of the film amounts to little more than a validation of the status quo.
It’s all symptomatic of the centrality of manipulation—the Motch brothers attempt to control Brady, who cares only about duping the public, and they also try to sway Huggins, who must in turn employ underhanded tactics in order to win the approval of voters. The audience too is manipulated, as Roach directs sympathies toward different characters through various plot twists as the story develops.
The Campaign is neither original nor subversive, but it is speckled with enough laughs to keep the show on the road, even if it does stop some way short of rolling-in-the-aisles territory.