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The Campaign

The Campaign

Released 28 September 2012
Director Jay Roach

Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Brian Cox, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd
Writer(s) Shawn Harwell, Chris Henchy

Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Adam McKay, Jay Roach
Origin United States
Running Time 85 minutes
Genre Comedy
Rating 15A

Spoiled ballot.

Politics – despite at times seeming like a very easy target – can be tricky to satirise. If the satire is too realistic, real life events will almost certainly end up being stranger (and funnier) than fiction. If it goes too far over the top, then it loses its connection to that which it is attempting to satirise.

As a film, The Campaign is moderately entertaining with a few good jokes, as a satire on modern day American politics it fails miserably.

When Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), a sleazy, womanising democratic Congressman from North Carolina makes a public gaffe and falls out of public favour, the shady heads of a big corporation (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide to back a new candidate in the upcoming election. Enter Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), a mild mannered small town tour guide, who soon finds himself running for Congress on the Republican ticket.

Ferrell and Galifianakis both give strong performances in the petty, immature, mudslinging battle of wits (or lack thereof) that ensues. As the confrontations between the two men become more and more outrageous in a desperate battle for opinion poll ratings, both actors play well to their strengths of improvisation, physical humour, and generally playing incompetent man-children while keeping a straight face.

The problem is that while Ferrell and Galifianakis are doing everything they can to earn laughs, the script mostly consists of toothless jabs at the obvious targets and badly handled topical references from six months ago that already feel out of date. All the predictable boxes are ticked: politicians are corrupt; elections are glorified popularity contests; the religious right love God and guns, and thus love whichever candidate mentions these things as often as possible. At no point does The Campaign take any risks of pushing the joke too far for fear of offending anybody – and the film squanders any potential it might have had as a result.

Given that The Campaign was directed by Jay Roach (also responsible for Meet the Parents and Austin Powers) and co-written by Adam McKay (director of Anchorman, Step Brothers) it is reasonable to expect a lot more than it actually delivers. It feels like everyone involved in the production thought politics was an easy target, and as a result could just replace genuine humour with an awkward cameo appearance from Piers Morgan. None of the characters are particularly memorable, none of the lines are very quotable, and, worst of all, Aykroyd and Lithgow are totally wasted in minor roles that do nothing other than furthering the painfully predictable plot. Anyone going into The Campaign expecting a “what if Ron Burgundy went into politics” scenario will be sorely disappointed.

In the end the timing of the release of The Campaign to coincide with the US presidential election (no doubt deliberate) only highlights its failings. Mitt Romney’s real life gaffes are far funnier than anything that happens in this film.

- Bernard O’Rourke