A modest theatrical hit this past summer, The Campaign is a broad political comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as competing congressional candidates. Cam Brady (Ferrell) has served four terms as a North Carolina congressman. He’s running unopposed for a fifth term, meaning he can get away with bloody murder during rallies, saying and doing pretty much whatever he wants. That is, until the scheming Motch brothers, a pairs of unscrupulous businessmen loosely modeled on the Koch brothers, decide to find someone to compete with Cam. Wade (Dan Aykroyd) and Glen (John Lithgow) want to build some Chinese-style sweatshops in North Carolina. So they handpick an idiot, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), to be their puppet.
Anyone concerned about being offended by an anti-Republican or anti-Democrat bias needn’t worry. Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell’s screenplay isn’t really aiming for biting satire in any particular direction. Cam, a democrat, is an inappropriate, lying, bumbling idiot. Marty, running as a Republican, is also a total buffoon. The writers and director Jay Roach (all three Austin Powers and Meet the Parents) are after laughs and nothing more. To their credit, laughs are what they get—most of the time, at least. As with so many Will Ferrell movies, he plays his role like a caricature, leaving little room for surprise once we get the gist. Galifianakis is no less broad, playing Marty as a dim-witted sissy. As the gears of the plot grind forward, their interactions begin to get a little tiring. But not so much that I won't watch it again. In fact, I have a feeling The Campaign will hold up very well—the funniest moments are funny enough to sustain repeat viewings.
As the campaign wears on, Cam and Marty become increasingly vicious in their attempts to discredit each other. Some of these gags are a little more predictable than others, such as when Cam butchers the Lord’s Prayer during a debate. But when Cam mistakenly leaves a crude message on a religious family’s answering machine, it’s a classic Ferrell moment (as are his attempts to minimize the phone message’s negative impact). Throwaway bits, like Marty quoting Salt-N-Pepa while trying to open a door (“Push it real good”), struck me as hilarious, even though I’d seen that specific bit in the trailer countless times. Even as the riffing starts falling a bit flat late in the film, there’s enough inspired moments here (such as Cam accidentally punching out the dog from The Artist) to make it easily recommendable.