Comedic “satires” poking fun at the government are a dime a dozen within the last decade and honestly, none of them have succeeded in what they’ve set out to do. The Campaign is another film in the political satire genre that tries to be honest about government but if you’ve watched CNN within the last ten years they’re not discussing anything new. When the film isn’t saying “politicians are liars” it’s doing little else other than focusing on two characters who are never engaging, beating jokes into the ground, and reveling in the ability to say the F-word. The Campaign would play well on television but it’s not worth a trip to the theater.
Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a North Carolina congressman whose run unopposed for four consecutive years. Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) is a mild-mannered Carolina resident asked to be Cam’s opponent at the request of his father. As the two candidates use various schemes to undermine each other, they discover they’re about to lose a lot more than the election.
There are a few one-liners that are chuckle-worthy so if you can go through long stretches of rote predictability there are a few gems. The various ad campaigns and slogans Brady and Huggins come up with are hilarious, specifically ones aimed at Cam’s son calling Marty “Dad.” The baby punching sequence never gets old but it’s been heavily watered down by the constant trailer replays and the joke itself is undermined by another punching that happens after involving a dog. This need to return to jokes that have already worked happens a few times throughout The Campaign as if the screenwriters said “punching a baby works, what else is there to punch?” The side characters pick up a lot of the slack in this film and there are some great turns from John Lithgow and Dylan McDermott who play the film straight, as if they’re aware they don’t have to do anything other than respond to what’s happening.
It’s this lackadaisical attitude that ruins The Campaign because it appears to rely on the outrageous situations of the two actors and ignores the plot. Everyone with a television set knows politicians lie and are financed by corporations so what is The Campaign saying other than “that’s bad?” It seeks to have this grand message but instead reiterates what any 3rd grader already understands. The two stars even return to familiar characters with Ferrell playing nothing other than restoring his tired George W. impression. The mean-spiritedness of the plot is another head-scratcher as the stakes never seem that high considering how over-the-top the candidates publicity stunts are. At one point Cam releases a sex tape with Marty’s wife as a campaign advertisement and no one stops to think over the various legalities of that. For a movie trying to poke fun at the idea of running for office, these men would probably be arrested. By the end it’s all irrelevant as both characters change and become “nice” for no reason other than there’s a supposed change of heart.
The Campaign doesn’t do more than what films like War Inc. and Southland Tales are tried to do and that’s mix humor with government. The campaign itself doesn’t focus on issues or showing the machinations of running (with humor) but shows two tired actors one-upping each other and saying naughty words with a smile on their face. The movie is too stupid to be funny and too boring to be political. It even lacks the boost to earn its R-rating.