Politics sure can be polarizing, but laughter has the power to bring people together.
At least that’s what this spoofy election-season satire is counting on, asking voters — and viewers — of all stripes to set aside their divisive differences and join in the unifying fun of watching two doofuses slug it out in a comically contentious race to represent their North Carolina hometown in Washington.
Will Ferrell plays Cam Braden, the vain, dim-bulb incumbent running on a ticket of “strong hair” and a buzzword-loaded platform of “America, Jesus and freedom.”
Zach Galifianakis is his unlikely challenger, Marty Huggins, the town’s soft-spoken, gnome-like tourism director put up to the job by a couple of local billionaire brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) with a shady business agenda.
With both candidates determined to do whatever it takes to win, it doesn’t take long before the politics get down and dirty — and profanely funny. There’s a leaked sex tape … “trash-talking” debates … TV ads that sink to desperately hilarious lows … a baby-kissing photo-op that takes a right-hook turn for the worse … and an assortment of other downward-spiraling slimeball silliness as the weeks tick off to election day.
Although the campaign antics are outrageous and outlandish, they’re grounded in the base realities of modern-day politics, a bloody mash-up in which almost any chink in a candidate’s armor can become a gaping, game-changing wound. A scene toward the end of the movie, when Cam and Marty compare old scars from childhood, is — like everything else — played for laughs; Marty’s scars are, well … more extensive than you’d expect. But the implication is clear: This game can maim.
“The Campaign” isn’t trying to score points as social commentary; it just wants to take potty-mouth potshots at a process that’s become an easy target to lampoon, and issues that that become grist from almost every real-life political grind, including “family values,” religion, terrorism and jobs. As the steel-edged campaign consultant hired to transform Marty into a cutthroat competitor, Dylan McDermott is an over-the-top parody of the process that can turn an otherwise ordinary life inside-out in a run for almost any elected office.
There’s more than a trace in Ferrell’s character of his extensive “Saturday Night Live” skit experience playing George “Dubya” Bush, but the movie itself is clearly non-partisan and doesn’t paint either candidate identifiably red or blue.
There are, however, recognizable incidents from modern-day headlines worked into the script with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge — a “hunting accident” a la Dick Cheney, an uncooperative doorknob (a Bush press conference gaffe that went viral in 2006), and the references to Cam’s “strong hair” that recall the media reports of one-time presidential candidate John Edwards’ $500 super-coifs.
With a John Belushi-like ability to crawl inside a role and disappear, Galifianakis makes Marty the movie’s most interesting character. But Ferrell certainly gets his share of the laughs, usually making it look so easy, often deadpanning and rarely having to overact.
Together, they’re a comedy dream ticket. I’d like to see these two very funny guys team up again. In this heated election season, they definitely get my vote.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Campaign”
STARRING: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis
DIRECTED BY: Jay Roach
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes