Release Date: 28th September, 2012
Directors: Jay Roach
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis
The American election season is always an interesting, vicarious watch for those of us across the pond. While we have no discernible power over any which way the vote will be cast, we do love to develop our own sneering opinions as the campaigns heat up. The Campaign is a comedy which follows multiple-term congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) and newcomer Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) as they compete for congress in North Carolina, and it plays heavily on the corruption, crookedness and absurdity the media often associates with American politics.
The campaign rally backdrop in which the film is set really doesn’t lend itself to a distinctive or interesting plot, rather an environment to allow Ferrell and Galifianakis to wage their juvenile, satirical war on one another throughout. Outside of a few cameo appearances (and, credit where it’s due, they are often pretty good fun) the film really doesn’t have much other than it’s two leads going for it. It’s a good thing, then, that both perform admirably.
I thoroughly enjoyed Galifianakis’ performance as Huggins, the likeable, moustache-clad, hard-working tourist shop owner and family man who is called to run for congressman by the Motch brothers. The brothers (played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) plan on selling a district in the area to the Chinese in order to cut down the shipping time of their Made in China products crafted by under-paid, under-age workers, and so manipulate the unaware Huggins in every possible manner to ensure his success. Huggins struggles to cope well with change as his old life slips away and every detail is replaced for the good of the campaign. Remember — the electorate are too stupid to vote for a good, honest man, they need guns, religion and copious amounts of taxidermy before you win them over.
While Galifianakis’ role seemed to be a step away from his comfort zone, Ferrell seemed completely at home with the arrogant, vulgar and ignorant Cam Brady. His performance smacks of his SNL George W. Bush sketch with a smattering of Bill Clinton thrown in to keep things a little fresh but, on the whole, if you have seen Ferrell’s comedy in the past his stylistic impression is well and truly stamped on Brady.
Where the film does disappoint, however, is in the writing. The Campaign seems to have aspirations of critiquing the current climate of American politics, but the satire itself is boiled down to a series of sketches, slapstick and cheap digs, mostly at the expense of Republican America. The in-between time is filled with crude humour, vulgarity and baby-punching, which only works for cheap laughs and takes away from any salient points which could have been addressed. The lead characters themselves are caricatures, exaggerating the elements which are genuine causes for concern in American politics, but the actual social commentary at work seems completely understated and does not go as far as the film would like you to think it does.
Hopefully this is not the last we’ll see of Ferrell and Galifianakis sharing the screen as they seem to work great together, but ultimately The Campaign ends up a pretty light affair with a lot of squandered potential.