The Campaign plays like a 98-minute, R-rated episode of “Saturday Night Live” during the peak of the Presidential race. Politics are an easy target for comedy fodder and Campaign screenwriters Chris Henchy (The Other Guys) and Shawn Harwell (“Eastbound and Down”) do a good job of never holding back, taking the political process to ridiculous heights while, unfortunately, avoiding the issues.
Ironically enough, the film itself is an example of how political Hollywood can be and could even be painted as hypocritical. While pointing the finger at the corporate driven world of politics, The Campaign strays from the issues to appease its Hollywood overlords in very much the same way as its two leads. While it would appear nothing is off limits as candidates bounce back from punching babies in the face, DUIs and sex tapes used as campaign commercials, any and all talking points are avoided. The bigger question, however, is it funny? Yes. Is it worth a trip to the theater? Eh, tough to say.
Running unopposed in a small North Carolina district, Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) looks like he has his bid for re-election locked up. However, when a pair of sibling CEOs (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow parodying the real life Koch brothers) target the town as a spot to set up a Chinese-owned sweatshop they decide to toss a little money at one resident in particular in an effort to buy some influence.
Minutes before Cam is declared winner as the lone candidate, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) throws his name in the ring. Much like his character in Due Date — nebbish, effeminate and in love with his dogs — Huggins becomes a corporate puppet of a candidate as he’s groomed by his campaign manager (Dylan McDermott as the star of the show) and begins to see his name rising in the polls.
The Campaign targets political corruption, media spin, scandal, lobbyists, etc. and does so with the goal to take it to the absolute limit without actually taking much of a stance. This, actually, is where the film loses a bit of ground as any attempt at relevance is lost when it decides corporate influence and public manipulation are the film’s only focus. Plenty of unfounded accusations are thrown back and forth, but for the most part big business is where it’s at.
Gags are the order of the day and this film is loaded with them, and they can only take the story so far without creating some kind of actual connection with the audience. Some talking points could have and should have been explored, even if those points were as cliche as gun control, immigration and abortion. Of course, the goal is to avoid offending anyone so adultery and comments out of context come to the forefront. The two candidates hardly even represent specific political parties. Cam is a Democrat and Marty a Republican, but partisanship isn’t even part of the narrative and the differences between the two are virtually non-existent.
I was also disappointed to see The Campaign couldn’t even stick to its comedic guns for the duration, opting to get all soft and tender in the end. What is it that makes filmmakers believe a film can’t just be funny? Why does there need to be some level of redemption in the end? Will audiences not accept a film where a politician punches a baby in the face as well as Uggie (the dog from The Artist) if somehow things don’t come out roses in the end?
I will say, director Jay Roach has managed to make a film I enjoy far more than his Meet the Parents, a film I disliked so much I actively avoided the sequels, but it’s not on par with his Austin Powers features, but it definitely comes out ahead of Dinner for Schmucks.
Admittedly, The Campaign made me laugh, but as a political comedy it is more hypocritical in its focus on big business than anything else as it attempts to appease its Hollywood overlords by straying from any and all talking points. This is likely the best you could hope for when it comes to a film actively attempting not to rock the boat and upset those that pay the checks and it certainly could have been far worse.