Movie Review: The Campaign
By Matthew Huntley
August 20, 2012
There was a time when Will Ferrell could say or do just about anything and it would come off as funny and fresh. He made us laugh simply because he was Will Ferrell, who’s nothing if not bold and fearless when it comes to comedy and willing to go any distance for a joke. He’s never too coy or embarrassed and nothing ever seems too taboo or outrageous.
The Campaign proves Ferrell is still willing to do whatever it takes, but the movie as a whole has a lower standard. Its underlying humor feels outdated and is just plain lame. In this day and age, because we’re so indoctrinated by politics from all sides, a movie meant to lampoon the American political system really has to do something special to catch our attention. Unfortunately, The Campaign is not able to accomplish that.
Instead of being sharp, punchy and original, the movie operates on the level of a sitcom and, frankly, it’s kind of boring. The likely reason is it too closely mirrors actual American politics, in which Democrats and Republicans resort to catty and juvenile tactics to make the other side look bad, which is what the characters in this movie do. But doesn’t this kind of stuff get reported on every day, and every day it seems more ridiculous and pathetic? I mean, if I wanted a send up of American politics, I could have simply turned on the news. Who needs The Campaign?
Ferrell plays incumbent Democratic Congressman Cam Brady, who’s currently seeking a fifth term in office. This would normally be easy for Brady since he always runs unopposed in North Carolina’s 14th District, out of a small town called Hammond, but when word gets out of his extra-marital affair (he leaves a dirty message on the wrong answering machine), his career is put in jeopardy. Two devious business brothers - Wade and Glen Motch (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) - immediately seize Brady’s transgression as an opportunity to put one of their own in office so he can approve their scheme to bring Chinese sweatshops stateside.
That’s where Marty Huggins (Zach Galifinakis) comes in. He’s short, stocky and simple, but happy, pleasant and kind just the same. Marty has never had much ambition other than to work as Hammond’s tourism director, even though one could walk the city’s entire downtown district in less than 10 minutes. He likes his job, loves his wife, Mitzi (Sarah Baker), and their two sons, and takes a lot of pride in his hometown. It’s easy to imagine Marty and Mr. Deeds being the best of friends.
When Marty’s rich, irritable father (Brian Cox) orders him to run for office, Marty thinks, what the heck, it could be fun. So, to the surprise of Brady and his longtime campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis), he marches into city hall - paperwork, processing fee and all - and enters the election. The Motch Brothers hire him a tough, rugged consultant (Dermot Mulroney) to spruce up his image and the games suddenly begin.
From here on out, you can pretty much guess where the movie will go. Brady and Huggins enter a no holds barred grudge match in an effort to discredit the other, and each begins to show his ugly side, which includes lewd trash talking, childish insults, physical fighting and bizarre, unfounded accusations. In other word, it’s like a real American campaign. At one point, Brady says that Huggins must be a member of either Al Qaeda or the Taliban because he has facial hair, while Huggins accuses Brady of being a communist because he wrote a story in the second grade called “Rainbow Land,” where only certain people were allowed to live.
What’s sad is the level to which both candidates sink doesn’t seem all that exaggerated and recalls such real-life accusations against Barack Obama. Remember all the fuss over “Obama” rhyming with “Osama” and his middle name being Hussein? Or Donald Trump incessantly trying to prove the president wasn’t born in the United States?
With that, it seems to be the mission of The Campaign to point out the frivolity and absurdity of our current political system whilst being a raunchy and licentious comedy. But the movie has two problems: 1) it doesn’t bring any new satire or humor to the table (we’ve seen its jokes in other movies, not to mention several TV shows); 2) it’s just not that inherently funny. Given the two leads, as well as the people behind the camera, including director Jay Roach (Austin Powers), I expected something edgier and more daring, but the movie takes a safe route and even ends on a schmaltzy note.
There are a couple bright spots, highlighted by Sudeikis gesturing The Lord’s Prayer so Brady can recite it, and Brady punching a baby and then having the nerve to say the baby hurt his hand. But these moments are too few and far between and the movie offers few surprises. It more or less delivers what we expect given the subject matter and genre, but we’re in an age where a comedy, especially a political comedy, has to do more if it hopes to get a rise out of us. The same goes for real-life politicians.