Opening last weekend, The Campaign is the latest comedy from director Jay Roach. The film tells the story of North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady (played by Will Ferrell), a Democrat who will remind viewers of such previous party statesmen as John Edwards and Anthony Weiner. The complacent Brady has been in office for nearly a decade and he is regularly reelected without opposition. However, when Brady accidentally leaves an obscene message on a random family’s answering machine, the multimillionaire Motch brother (John Lithgow and Dan Ayrkroyd) see a chance to replace Brady with a congressman who will essentially belong to them. They recruit the naive and well-meaning Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) to run against Brady. While Huggins is initially an awkward and unimpressive candidate, his image is soon transformed by a possibly demonic campaign manager (Dylan McDermott). As Huggins starts to move up in the polls, Brady reacts by having a nervous breakdown of his own and soon the campaign gets very personal as both Huggins and Brady go to increasingly outrageous lengths to win the election.
As a work of political satire, The Campaign is fairly uneven. This is largely because, while the film raises some valid points, those points are still the same points that have been made by hundreds of other films about the American political system. If you didn’t already know that the American political system was controlled by wealthy corporations before you saw The Campaign then you probably shouldn’t be allowed to vote in the first place. At its best, the film reminds us that both the Democrats and the Republicans pretty much answer to the same corporate masters. At its worst, the film’s ”message” just feels like a stale and predictable lecture that one might hear while visiting an old Occupy camp site.
But if the film doesn’t quite come together as a satire, it does work wonderfully well as a comedy. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are two of the funniest guys around and they are at the top of their game in this film. Both of them bring such a sincerity to their absurd characters that even the most predictable of punchlines feel fresh and hilarious. Zach Galifianakis is surprisingly likable and earnest as the painfully sincere Marty. It’s no surprise to see Galifianakis playing someone who could charitably be described as a weirdo. However, Galifianakis also bring a gentleness of spirit to the role and it’s impossible not to root for him. Meanwhile, Will Ferrell not only manages to master a North Carolina accent but also manages to capture both the arrogance and the ignorance that’s necessary for a truly mediocre man to become a succesful politician.
However, the film’s best comedic performance comes from, believe it or not, Dylan McDermott. Playing a slick political operative who always dresses in black and who, occasionally, appears to be possessed by the devil, McDermott is a wonder to behold in this film. He steals every scene that he appears in and the prospect of his return alone should be reason enough for some brave film executive to greenlight The Campaign Part 2.
The Campaign works best when it’s content to simply make us laugh. When it attempts to make a serious statement about the state of American politics, the film often feels flat. But as a laugh-out-loud comedy, The Campaign is a definite winner.