There’s something depressing about movies about politics, even ones as light-hearted as The Campaign tries to be. Corruption is apparently so pervasive that it’s the fallback narrative for politically themed films. The latest from Jay Roach, who’s directed serious political dramas (Recount and Game Change) as well as broad comedies (Meet the Fockers and Dinner for Schmucks), is a montage of funny sketches (many of which you’ve already seen in the trailer, although the previews also contain gags ultimately left on the cutting-room floor). But as uplifting as the slight story line aims to be, it unfortunately still leaves a sour aftertaste.
North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady (lovable oaf Will Ferrell) is content to coast into a fifth term unopposed when he commits a mortifying, mortal gaffe involving a mistress, a voicemail and a wrong number. One gets the sense this blunder isn’t this slick showman’s first, and he’s prepared to tap dance his ratings back up in the polls, but wealthy power brokers the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) smell an opening and throw their considerable weight behind an upstart challenger: Hammond, N.C., tour guide Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis).
Doughy, sweater-vested Marty has harbored political aspirations his whole life and jumps at the chance to serve the community he loves—and earn the respect of his pisser of a dad (Brian Cox, in a brilliant bit of father-son casting) while he’s at it. But rather than pit Marty’s naïve sincerity against Cam’s practiced cynicism, screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell pair Marty with Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), a black-ops campaign manager who swiftly and heartlessly overhauls Marty’s image, home and family, even replacing his beloved pugs with a chocolate lab and golden retriever, the two highest-polling dog breeds in America.
That Marty so quickly stoops to Cam’s level is disappointing and a missed opportunity, although the one-upmanship of debates, personal appearances and campaign ads is the very state of affairs the filmmakers are aiming to lampoon and the source of their best laughs. That they’re not that far off the mark only makes it worse—we’re laughing to keep from crying, and that’s no fun.
Director: Jay Roach
Writers: Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, Katherine LaNasa, Sarah Baker, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox
Release Date: Aug. 10, 2012