I hate to use the cliche of dismissing a comedy as a "Saturday Night Live" skit stretched into a movie, but "The Campaign" is just the kind of non-effort that perfectly fits that description.
Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a boorish, narcissistic North Carolina congressman who's given to long tirades of unlikely curse combinations. Zach Galifianakis co-stars as Marty Huggins, a fussy, uptight ninny who unknowingly becomes the first person to run against Brady in an election. Both actors are breezing through tired roles that they have played far too many times, and the film doesn't get any more inventive when their characters square off. If the timing of this release has you expecting anything like social commentary, you'll be even more disappointed. This 85-minute farce is a big missed opportunity.
Brady is a hyperactive Republican caricature who is only a few degrees away from the George W. Bush impersonation Ferrell did on "Saturday Night Live." His campaign catchphrase is: "America. Jesus. Freedom." He visits everyone from bankers to farmers to amusement park workers, telling each group they are the backbone of America. He's having a few affairs and taking dirty money, but with the help of his patient campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis, always a good straight man), he can keep his career as well-maintained as his hair.
He expects to waltz into another re-election in his distict, but finds himself challenged by Huggins, a bumbling everyman trying his hand at politics with no idea what he's getting into. A suave campaign coach (Dylan McDermott) helps groom Huggins from a wimpy newcomer to a deep-voiced, on-point opponent giving Brady his first reason to worry. The two men get embroiled in a fight for small-town America, which is really just a bunch of weak comic set pieces strung together. Campaign ads are mostly an excuse to get a few genitals out; babies and dogs get punched; and each actor gets a few chances to explode at the other, and everyone else in the cast. For Ferrell and Galifianakis, the humor is politics as usual.
You have to wonder why director Jay Roach, coming straight off HBO's Sarah Palin dramatization "Game Change," would bother making an election-year comedy with no apparent interest in satire.
Politics is crazy, sure, but this film shows a broad, overdone kind of crazy that misses the point. John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd add a bit of news-cycle relevance as the Motch Brothers (get it?), two conniving businessmen trying to buy the election to keep an outsourcing scheme going. The film has its moments when it gets in a sharp gag about Islamophobia, post- 9/1 1 angst, American exceptionalism and a few other hot topics in need of skewering. It's like a campaign speech that's all noise and nonsense, but occasionally hits the right buzz words.
Beyond that, "The Campaign" bears little resemblance to anything happening in today's political scene, especially because there's nothing funny about it.
1 star (out of 4)
STARRING: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis
DIRECTOR: Jay Roach
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
RATING: R for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity.
THE LOWDOWN: A narcissistic congressman and a bumbling everyman face off in an election for a small district in North Carolina.