“War has rules, mud wrestling has rules – politics has no rules” – Ross Perot
When a political comedy starts out with a Ross Perot quote, you might start asking yourself if the comedy can be anywhere near as funny as the real thing. Of course, politics isn’t very funny these days. You’d have to go back the 19th century to find a time when America was more divided or when the stakes were this serious. And we sure don’t have Ross Perot to laugh at anymore. Sure, he’s still out there somewhere, unless those black helicopters managed to finally get him. But elections just aren’t the same without Elmer Fudd on the stump.
The last time that Will Ferrell really made us laugh was back in 2004 with Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. It’s no surprise that after nearly a decade he’s about to return to that role once again. In the meantime he’s decided to team up with Zach Galifianakis, who has been making us laugh a little more consistently. The result is an unexpected and rather entertaining political comedy, The Campaign. The movie is primed to take advantage of the bitter reality and give us all a chance to find something to laugh at in the world of politics. The film is refreshing in that it doesn’t lean one way or the other politically. You’d have a hard time finding any of the usual swipes at one side or the other. That just makes the laughs that much better.
Cam Brady (Ferrell) is running for his 5th term as United States Congressman from the 14th district in North Carolina. He’s never been opposed, and it shows in his rather careless campaign strategies. It all changes when he accidentally leaves a sexually abusive message on the answering machine of an evangelical family having dinner. Suddenly he appears beatable, and the wealthy Motch Brothers Glenn (Lithgow) and Wade (Aykroyd) see their opening. They go to cheerful and naive Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) because he is likable and they believe he will be easy to control. They need the district’s Congressman in their pockets so they can literally sell the district to the Chinese to build a factory with imported workers.
Marty doesn’t have the kind of strong presence needed to wow voters. Enter Tim Wattley (McDermott) who gives Marty and his family a complete makeover, even switching out his two pugs with better-polling retrievers. Armed with a new image Marty takes on the surprised challenger. The fight becomes bitter as Cam Brady and the Motch Brothers will stop at nothing to get what they want.
The cast really pulls what is really a very simple plot and story together. Credit director Jay Roach for not trying to overcomplicate the story. He lets the actors deliver the comedy with just the slightest push from predictable plot turns and betrayals. When Ferrell and Galifianakis are together, it makes for some truly laugh out loud moments. But the best part of the film isn’t even the two lead actors. It’s the outrageous dirty campaign ad war that goes on between the two camps. Dylan McDermott steps out of his usual good-guy persona to become the slick snake oil salesman who attempts to transform Marty into a winning candidate. Never mind that the end has more cliché than a Mother’s Goose Greatest Hits collection. It’s not really about any of that. It doesn’t matter that the film is about as improbable as they come. The film is playing strictly for laughs, and that’s what makes it work.
Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow are highlights of the film as the corrupt brothers. I wonder if Roach isn’t a fan of Trading Places. The Motch Brothers constantly reminded me of the Duke Brothers from that film, which also starred a then-young Aykroyd.
This one won’t have a ton of staying power. It’s not the kind of film you’re going to want to watch over and over again. I don’t expect it to be talked about much a couple of years from now. It’s strictly a solid diversion that entertains in the here and now. A good solid comedy, and after all good comedies “are the backbone of America”.