(L-R) Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott and Will Ferrell in "The Campaign"
Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis bring their boundary-pushing comedic sensibilities to the world of politics with this uneven chuckler. The strong cast (including John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) and topical plot help make for a hilarious first hour. But "The Campaign" eventually fizzles beneath a spattering of raunchy humor that too often misses the mark.
Ferrell plays North Carolina-based U.S. Rep. Cam Brady as sort of an amalgam of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Brady has long run unopposed in his district and again looks destined for re-election despite an episode of infidelity. The greedy tycoon Motch brothers (Lithgow and Aykroyd) are eager to supplant Brady with a candidate who will support their agenda, and turn to the oblivious and awkward Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), the son of a wealthy businessman.
Brady is politically savvy and embarrasses Huggins at every opportunity -- until the Motch brothers hire shady campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott in a terrific performance) to transform Huggins from frumpy to ferocious. Brady's own campaign manager, Mitch (Jason Sudeikis), struggles to reign in his candidate, who begins to lose control as Huggins moves up in the polls. Ethics, integrity and tact are thrown by the wayside as the rivals trade barbs in full view.
The film enjoys its funniest moments while Huggins is learning how to be a politician. Wattley is determined to turn the soft-spoken and somewhat effeminate Huggins into a "real American," including redesigning the family's living room to feature a gun rack, and supplanting Huggins' beloved pugs with more "pro-American" breeds. Huggins' discomfort leads to a slew of laughs.
In contrast, Ferrell's Brady is a live-wire riot. He is an irresponsible, womanizing lush, and while that sort of character makes for good comedy, it is difficult to care about him. Seeing Lithgow and Aykroyd together as brothers is a particular treat, and the filmmakers do well in not pandering to one particular side of the political spectrum. In fact, part of the movie's flair comes in avoiding actual politics (when an intern brings up a real political issue, Brady kicks him out of the campaign headquarters).
Where the film falters is in its script. Winning scenes trade time with squirm-inducing moments, such as several tasteless political ads courtesy of both candidates. There is some smart social commentary tucked in, but it's tough to take seriously given the picture's crude undertones.
"The Campaign" shows a great deal of promise and is a worthwhile viewing for Ferrell and Galifianakis fans. But, not unlike some politicians, it proves unable to live up to its own potential.
Rated R for language, crude sexual content and brief nudity. 1 hour, 25 minutes.
- Tyler Hanley