I’m pretty sure that if someone who was running for Congress punched a baby (by accident or not) in front of dozens of press, his campaign would be over. And if by some miracle he was able to continue running and he ended up punching a dog in front of dozens of press (Uggi, the dog from “The Artist” to be precise), his campaign would be over.
This isn’t necessarily a critique of Jay Roach’s new movie “The Campaign” but an observation on how outlandish and outrageous its humor can be and also the level that most comedies of today have to rise to (or rise above) to connect with the audience. The more illegal, offensive and raunchy something is the funnier it is. Those were the three adjectives that drove “The Dictator,” Sacha Baron Cohen’s political satire that came out earlier this year, and they pretty much drive “The Campaign,” another political satire.
While obviously not without flaws, “The Campaign” is still a worthy comedy, one of the better ones of the year. It stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galafianakis, two comedic actors who have been very successful in the past but are also attuned to misfires as well. In “The Campaign” neither one of them seems like they’re trying overly hard to be funny. And neither one tries to hog the movie, there’s a nice balance between them. Better yet the screenplay by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell is surprisingly intelligent and well thought out. Much like “The Dictator,” there’s social commentary all throughout “The Campaign.” And to top it all off, it has plenty of envelope-pushing humor.
Ferrell and Galafianakis play rival politicians running for Congress in their North Carolina district. Ferrell is Cam Brady, the veteran who’s been congressman for a number of years. Although he’s more obsessed with his image of being a congressman than with actually doing the job. He’s pretty lousy and slimy, making empty promises and bogus excuses, while having multiple affairs with other women. (Does that sound like any politicians?) The only reason why he’s won every time is because he runs unopposed.
That is until Marty Huggins (Galafianakis) comes along to shake things up. Huggins is a naïve weirdo with a big heart. Essentially the usual Zach Galafianakis, with a mustache and an effeminate southern accent. He’s been sponsored by The Motch Brothers, an evil corporation that wants to bring Chinese sweatshops to the district and think they can do it with Marty’s stupidity. Initially Cam thinks he has this election in the bag. But with the help of a shady campaign manager played by Dylan McDermott, Marty goes from being a fool to being the front-runner, exposing Cam’s BS. And the two partake in a nasty rivalry.
Most of the movie is Cam and Marty finding ways to outdo one another and make the other look bad, so it’s a blessing that Ferrell and Galafianakis work so well together. Roach’s picture satirizes every aspect of a political campaign: baby kissing, debates, commercials that smear the opposing candidate, playing the religion card, hurling ridiculous accusations back and forth, preying on the naivety of undecided voters and of course the role that big businesses play in election. As I said before a lot of it is funny, mainly because it’s so true. In addition there are a few amusing curveball gags making fun of nonpolitical things like southern ideals and traditions. Like “The Dictator,” “The Campaign” is a movie that you laugh at more than you should.
Certain jokes and set pieces go on longer than they should and the film runs into some problems in the third act (not surprising in a comedy) having to do with the resolution but overall I enjoyed “The Campaign.” It’s offensive yes, raunchy, and a baby and a dog do get hit in the face, but I have no problem with that if it delivers in the laughs department, which it does. And the fact that it’s smarter than it looks is a bonus.