The Campaign is a political satire that, save for a twenty minute stretch in the middle which was actually quite entertaining, is a dreadful experience for someone like me. Sure, if you like seeing Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis say whatever they want while taking broad shots at each other and American politics, you might enjoy it, but I’m not a fan of either actor. American politics can be interesting, but everything that the movie wants to say — which isn’t actually all that much; it’s more a battle between the two characters than a genuine satire — has been said before and in more interesting ways.
The film opens with Ferrell’s character, North Carolina’s four-time incumbent congressman Cam Brady, promoting himself because he feels the need to, I suppose. He has run unopposed for years, and is liked by the majority of the state. However, this lack of opposition is going to change, as a couple of rich people (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) decide to put forward a candidate who will allow them to essentially turn the state into a place where sweatshops are legal, so that they can stop spending money on shipping products from China.
That man is a buffoon played by Galifianakis, who reminds me much of Jack Black’s Bernie from earlier in the year, except that Bernie had more depth. Galifianakis’ character, Marty Huggins, is an all-around good Christian man, while Bernie actually had more thought put into his creation. Then again, Bernie was based on a real person, while Marty isn’t. Anyway, Marty gets a campaign manager (Dylan McDermott), who tries to transform him into a ruthless politician, with varying success.
So, the two characters slander one another for the rest of the film, until the end when a couple of turns dominate the screen and make little sense. They come from out of nowhere and take away from the film. Told without them, we cut out ten minutes and don’t have to generate weak reasons as to why the characters would change like they do here. You can argue that these turns are “in character,” but to me, they felt forced, like the film was running out of steam and decided it needed something to spice things up.
You know that it all comes down to the jokes, though, which is something that will vary from person to person. There’s one stretch where The Campaign was starting to win me over, and it lasted for about twenty minutes. I laughed frequently, and I started to have a good time. But then the energy fell out, the film started reaching back to typical Ferrell territory — think Step Brothers without the man-children, if you can separate the two — and I lost interest.
I know that this kind of comedy appeals to a lot of people, and if you’re a fan of Ferrell’s typical affairs, you’re probably going to like this one as well. I just didn’t have a lot of fun. Much of the audience I was with did, though, so take that as encouraging. If you like listening to Farrell spout out bursts of profanity and obscenity, regardless of the situation and who is around him, then you’ll probably enjoy seeing it here, too. I prefer more of a point, but I’ll admit that seeing that baby get punched over and over in slow motion was amusing.
The point could have been focused far more on the politics, and how easily corrupted those involved are. The trailers don’t give this away, but some of the film deals with the billionaires pulling the strings behind the scenes. It’s not just about the rivalry between the characters, but that’s so much where the focus lies that it’s hard to think the corruption subplot wasn’t an afterthought, tacked-on so that the film can justify a feature-length running time.
Essentially, whether or not you like The Campaign will be determined by how big of a fan you are of either of the two leads. Big Will Ferrell fan? You’ll probably like this. Enjoy Zach Galifianakis in everything? You’ll also probably like this. Want to see both of them in a movie together — even if they share only a few scenes? Then this is the movie for you. I know they’re both popular and I don’t want to turn you away from seeing this movie if you like them.
To be fair, they’re both fine here. Ferrell is more of a straight man than he generally plays, which doesn’t necessarily play to his strength, but still permits him a few scenes of outburst. Galifianakis is as nice as possible, although I was always waiting for the inevitable outburst, where his character shatters our perception of him by showing us that it was all an act — something that may or may not actually happen. The biggest surprise was seeing Brian Cox in this, simply because I thought he was above doing a Will Ferrell comedy. I guess not.
The Campaign will be enjoyable for Will Ferrell or Zach Galifianakis fans. That’s as simple as it is. You like them, you’ll like the movie. There’s a really funny section in the film that lasts for about twenty minutes that even non-fans will enjoy, but for the most part, this is a film you go see for either of the two leads. It’s a movie that would have been better had it decided to tackle its political subject matter with more ferocity, but most of the audience won’t care anyway.