When a director has a long string of hits under his belt consisting of two major film series (Austin Powers and the Fockers), it’s a bit of a surprise to see Jay Roach step into the political arena. With two made-for-HBO TV movies, Recount chronicling the aftermath of the 2000 U.S. presidential election and Game Change following John McCain’s 2008 campaign with running mate Sarah Palin, he shows no signs of letting his political guard down by bringing us the Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis beat down, The Campaign.
Cam Brady (Ferrell) has run unopposed for the last 12 years in small town Hammond, NC. He loves his wife Rose (Katherine LaNasa) and their two kids Cam Jr. and Jessica (Madison Wolfe), but seems to love controversy just a little bit more. At first it solely consists of his mistress Shana (Kate Lang Johnson), but when his affair leads to a drunken voicemail left on the machine of Mr. and Mrs. Mendenhall (Jack McBrayer and Elizabeth Welles Berkes), it results in a dramatic decline of support. As his campaign manager Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) puts it, he’s no longer climbing like the yodeling mountain climber on The Price is Right.
The nefarious Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) see this as the perfect time to strike to get their idea of “insourcing” moving along. This means that they need someone crazy enough to beat Brady at his own game in order to build a sweatshop in Hammond to bring jobs, not to the townsfolk, but to Chinese workers which will double their already doubled revenue. The Motch brothers call up Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox) whose son Mitch (Galifianakis) may be exactly who they’re looking for. Mitch too loves his wife Mitzy (Sarah Baker), their two sons Clay and Dylan (Grant Goodman and Kya Haywood), and their two pugs. But his perfect world is in an upheaval once Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) pops up as his Motch-appointed campaign manager to “make him not suck.”
Mud slinging, the Deep South, and politics in general, all take a hilarious beating as Ferrell and Galifianakis make good use of their improv skills. While surely there was still plenty of the script left in tack, credited to Chris Henchy (The Other Guys, Spin City) and Shawn Harwell (Eastbound & Down), the film is so hilarious, even if sometimes ashamedly, that I cannot wait for an unrated Blu-ray release. With what was left up on the screen it will be a shock to see what could have possibly wound up on the cutting room floor.
Director Roach sure has come a long way with his directing abilities, even if he’s still working with a group of actors who love to take a joke as far as it can go before socking you with a punchline. Speaking of socking, punching a baby in the face may be hilarious, but just wait until you see who else gets a smackdown. And it’s a moment of hilarious shock and awe when you see poor Mrs. Yao (Karen Maruyama) speaking with a $50/week bonus payment from Raymond Huggins because it “reminds him of the good ol’ days.” The only down side is that Lithgow and Aykroyd are never given anything to do making the whole film seem a little beneath them.
With a film like this what it all comes down to is whether it’s actually funny. And the good news is that yes, it is incredibly funny and only seems like Ferrell and producer Adam McKay are simply warming up for Anchorman 2 next year. Thankfully, The Campaign revels in its R-rating and Gary Sanchez Productions silliness. At least it never aims for the sublime raunch levels of the divisive Stepbrothers. And while it also never reaches the hilarious heights of Ted, I’m still casting my vote for The Campaign as one of the funniest movies of the year.
Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures