Politics is dirty, dangerous, often bloodthirsty business, and no more so than at the present moment in history. If ever America needed Hollywood to crank out a comedic antidote to the toxic political madness that has engulfed our nation, now is the time. Unfortunately, this loopy, muddled, and ultimately insulting Campaign isn't it. It feels more like an extended Saturday Night Live-meets-FunnyOrDie.com castoff than an actual comedic commentary on American politics.
Working from a script by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, Director Jay Roach (of the Meet the Parents franchise) has crafted a political comedy guaranteed to offend no one and annoy the hell out of those of us who are already exasperated with the kindergarten state of the corporate American political machine. It's not just that the setup is so obvious as to be pointless, although it is. What drove me to distraction was how many chances Roach and company had to make a political satire with some serious teeth, and how consistently they blow it.
Ferrell gets some great (and totally predictable) moments as South Carolinian Republican Gov. Cam Brady. A sleazy incumbent initially running unopposed, he finds himself suddenly challenged by the civic-minded naïf and all-around family-man-cum-schmo Marty Huggins (Galifianakis, seemingly channeling Jack Black's Bernie character). Unfailingly earnest, honest, and endlessly gullible, Marty, a local tour guide, is handpicked by a pair of slimy billionaire businessmen (Aykroyd, Lithgow) as their gubernatorial cat's-paw. Their aim is to "insource" cheap Chinese factories and laborers into the district at the cost of decimating the local economy, but the characters are so obviously modeled on real-life Tea Party/Republican puppet masters the Koch brothers that the joke falls flat faster than Barack Obama's campaign promises. Evil corporate overlords who secretly control the political gaming field? Well, duh!
There are some bright spots in The Campaign – the audience I watched it with found it consistently uproarious – chief among them Dylan McDermott's turn as a vile and permanently black-clad political adviser. For his part, Will Ferrell is very Will Ferrell here and not much else; his horndog guv is part George W. Bush nincompoop and part Bill Clinton slickster. What's really galling about the film is just how low it sets the comedy bar. For those seeking some honestly hilarious and hilariously honest political satire, I suggest checking out the recent scabrous, scathing Brit import In the Loop or, stateside, Michael Ritchie's still very much relevant 1972 hit The Candidate and the Marx Brothers' inspired deconstruction of poisonous politics in 1933's Duck Soup. Or just turn on your TV: There's more genuine humor/outrage to be found in any given 30 seconds of The Daily Show – or, for that matter, anything self-described "comedian" Glenn Beck chalks on his blackboard o' doom – than in the entirety of this lame Campaign.