Note: This appeared in the print-only edition of the TV Guide published by The Marshall Independent.
It’s not that this movie isn’t funny, it is in spots. It’s just that you have to wonder why it isn’t funnier given the subject matter.
“The Campaign” has a few things going for it. There are a couple of great belly laughs in the early part of the movie but you’ve probably already seen them in the trailer.
Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a Democratic North Carolina congressman who has been in office forever. He’s got a beautiful, albeit cold and ruthless wife (Katherine LaNasa,) two attractive children, and a lot of action on the side. He has such a lock on the job he usually runs unopposed.
Cam is such a klutz he accidental sends a sexually explicit phone call intended for his girlfriend to the answering machine of a stereotypically uptight Christian family. Oops!
The local Powers that Be, the Motch brothers Glenn (John Lithgow) and Wade (Dan Aykroyd) decide it’s time for a change and co-opt a lesser power broker Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox) to run his son Marty (Zach Galifianakis) on the Republican ticket.
What they want is a congressman who will smooth their way to selling the district to the Chinese, who will bring sweatshops staffed by 50 cents an hour labor producing cheap junk.
Marty is their guy because he’s kind of dumb. He’s also a disappointment to his father, who is so into the trappings of power he makes his Chinese housekeeper Mrs. Yao (Karen Maruyama) affect a black “Mammy” accent straight out of “Gone with the Wind” because it “reminds him of the good old days.”
Marty, to put it kindly, is kind of weird. He’s got effeminate mannerisms and an air of innocence which comes off sweet but idiotic. His wife Mitzi (Sarah Baker) is plump and cute, and his kids look like the boys who get bullied on the playground.
He starts out getting creamed by Cam who makes him look like the weirdo he is. But then a combination of sweetness, honesty, plus the ruthless machinations of his new campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) starts to push him ahead in the polls.
And of course you know this means war. And war has collateral damage. But who could imagine seeing a baby get punched could be so hilarious?
The middle of the film is all about the dirty tricks the two play on each other. And I mean dirty, even by the standards of politics. Marty, with Wattley’s help, discovers his inner mensch, but also discovers his mean streak.
So what’s right with the movie?
Well to begin with, it’s not shilling for either party. It shows them as the Evil Party and the Stupid Party, and you can take you pick as to which is which depending on your own inclinations. It shows the corrupting influence of power, and that big money has no party preference, only a flag of convenience.
What’s wrong with it?
It’s vulgar. Worse, the vulgarity has no point. Worse still it’s not funny.
There are some odd misfires when it tries to be dramatic. Cam comes over to Marty’s place drunk and wanting to make friends. He gets drunker and leaves.
Tim comes out of the shadows and tells Marty, “You know what to do.”
Marty calls the police to report a drunk driver. This is presented as despicable.
No it’s not!
Yes it would have been better to convince Cam to give Marty the car keys and sleep on the couch. But it is not a bad thing to report a dangerously intoxicated driver.
The problem is, politicians have become so self-parodying it’s getting very, very hard to parody them.
Cam’s public gaffes inevitably remind one of Bill Clinton’s zipper problems, Joe Biden’s logorrhea, and Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) “legitimate rape” gaffe. I see allusions to former Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-NY,) and possibly former Sen. David Boren’s (D-Okla.) “broom brigade” that was going to “clean up” Washington. (In 1979. How’d that work out?)
In the end Marty rediscovers his idealism and honesty, inspires Cam to rediscover his, they unite against the bad buys and all is made right with the world.
I like fairly tales too. Just don’t take your kids to this one.