Film Review: The Campaign (Warner Bros; 2012)

By Peter McLoughlin @PeterGownArts

The Campaign is a by-the-numbers Will Ferrell comedy, but with a twist: there’s actually some relevant, and quite serious, social satire undercutting the film.

The film centres on two different but equally inane local election candidates, Cam Brady (Ferrell) and Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), as they are pitted against each other by their respective campaign managers.   Ferrell’s Brady has been running unopposed for a number of years, but after two local business men decide they want to import Chinese labour (it’s not supposed to make total sense) into Carolina’s 14th District to cut wage costs, they hire cut-throat PR man Tim Wattley (played with skilful dead-pan by holy-christ-how-is-that-man-50 Dylan McDermott) to turn Huggins from quasi-homosexual, precious family man into a gun-toting, freedom-loving, animal-hunting American emblem.  So begins sketch after sketch, loosely tied together, of typical obscene gags.
The screenplay is part-written by Chris Henchy, one of the writers behind the badass, amazing fuckin’ powerhouse of a show Eastbound and Down.  Will Ferrell produces Eastbound… and also has a bit-part role in the series.  Jason Sudeikis, who plays Ferrell’s campaign manager in The Campaign also has a role in the show.  Consequently, The Campaign should be funnier.  But where Eastbound… tak

es their characters to some wonderfully depraved depths, the Campaign opts for the safer kind of depravity – the situational kind.  The comedy in the script is not edgy or fresh – it is stupid and safe.  Some scenes will have you laughing, of course, because stupid comedy is still comedy, and the film does work in that regard – but there’s little new, either.

The characters, particularly the two leads, are little more than pivots to work random, admittedly funny, situations around.  I imagine a room, with a handful of writers in it – perhaps a producer or two – discussing what hadn’t been done yet in a Will Ferrell comedy.  They write a long list of stupid situations they could put Ferrell and Galifianakis in.  Then they pick a few from the list that seem like they would work best in this setting, create plausible links between these sketches, and in that way create the bulk of the film.

All the same, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, The Campaign gains credibility in its political satire.  Instead of simply presenting two bumbling idiot candidates as the sole drivers of their stupidity, we are shown the reality of Capitalist government in all its vainglory – wealthy business benefactors throwing money behind candidates to pay for advertising, PR, image awareness, speech-writing etcetera; not to advocate the best potential policy changes for the people of America, but to ensure they have a malleable puppet in power to slide profitable legislation changes into American – or in this case, state – law  (a great, serious, documentary about how the large banks do this is The Inside Job, narrated by Matt Damon).  It is rare to see such an honest indictment of Capitalist politics, particularly from Hollywood, even if it is shrouded in diminishing humour.

If you’re a fan of Will Ferrell, (and I am to an extent) then The Campaign will satisfy you.  It doesn’t try for much, but what it does it does well enough.