For a while you would have though the American politics is beyond parody. We see the various gaffs and mishaps coming from a certain Presidential candidate, and then see that the race to win the 2012 election could still be a photo finish. It’s hard not to crack a smile of incredulity. And yet The Campaign proves that you can mock US politics by going in a different direction.
Instead of focusing on satire, The Campaign heads more in the direction of farcical and crude humour. The political orientation of the two candidates doesn’t really matter, only that they are both completely incompetent. The film instead decides to make satire out of the large amount of money that is put into the system, the simple message being that if you have the backing of someone with huge piles of cash you can win any election you want. Political attack ads are also held up as being rather petty, overblown, and full of lies. They usually are, but as you’ll see these candidates won’t shy away from accusing each other of being terrorists.
Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is the Congressman for the small constituency of Hammond. Looking to serve a fifth straight term, it looks like he will stand unopposed, until a gaff involving an answering machine sends his approval ratings through the floor. The mega-rich Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) see that Brady could be in trouble, and so decide to find another candidate to be their puppet. And so they select Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), a local man who runs a tourism company.
The incumbent congressman Cam Brady is a Democrat, but you wouldn’t think that when you see him. He looks like Bush, and has the brains of Chaney. The only sign that he’s a Democrat is that he has the hair of John Kerry. It’s clear that Will Ferrell has based Cam Brady on the selection of Republican blowhards that march around Washington, and let’s be frank he has plenty to choose from. He will do anything to win, including making a sex tape for a campaign commercial. He has a wife (Katherine LaNasa) who only sticks around because Cam is under consideration to be the next Vice President.
Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) is the Republican candidate challenging Brady. We only know he’s a Republican because he states that he is when he announces his candidacy, and his silent rage when his son confesses he took the Lord’s name in vain (along with many other offensives). Huggins is essentially the village idiot, walking around with his two dogs, saying hello to people on the street who shout back that they have no idea who he is. It is basically Zach Galifianakis doing what he does best.
To make sure that Huggins’ campaign goes smoothly, the Motch brothers send campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to help. McDermott steals every scene he is in as the slimy and venomous campaigner. Never will you see someone make eating cereal so hilariously sinister. The Motch brothers themselves (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) are exactly what you expect from rich backers, and that’s pure evil. They have a quality that’s vaguely reminiscent of Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister; they are charming, vindictive, and seem to have control over everything. It’s almost certain that they are based on the real life Koch brothers (look them up – pure evil).
The Campaign has plenty of laughs, and it is well paced so then the election race doesn’t become too mundane. Instead off an underdog trying to break down an insurmountable lead, the polls show a roller coaster ride. The only thing that lets this film down is the ending, which many will see coming, and many will wish it’s not going to happen. The central message of the conclusion is that no matter what honesty and integrity prevail in politics. This is not funny, in fact it’s rather sad, considering that it is hardly ever the case.
It’s the chemistry between Ferrell and Galifianakis that really makes this film tick. Also serving as producers, they will have been able to shape the script into something that suits them perfectly. The supporting characters provide just the right amount of humorous relief from the pair, especially from Dylan McDermott who is superb. If it wasn’t for the lazy conclusion it would have been one of the best comedies of the year. The most sobering thought however is that even though it is totally ludicrous, it wouldn’t be surprising if this story came true.
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