If there ever was a topic ripe for parody, it is the extraordinary spectacle that is modern day American politics. This is, after all, a nation that just spent SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS to elect a president to get themselves out of debt. Two candidates who ran for presidency this year on the promise of fiscal responsibility ended up bankrupting their campaigns and one guy who is running for vice president is seen as an economic wonder boy but he won’t tell anyone the details of his plans because ‘it’ll take too long’. It is the perfect time for a film like The Campaign.
In The Campaign, Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is the long established Democratic candidate who is so entrenched in his seat that he is expected to stroll into his fifth term unopposed. Brady’s slovenly and ill-disciplined behaviour leads to him unintentionally recording a sexually explicity voicemail on a local family’s telephone. Two corrupt businessmen, the Motch Brothers, see this as an opportunity to introduce their own candidate – a half witted local named Marty Huggins (Zach Galifinakis) – who they can bring to power and use to deregulate state laws and profit from Chinese child labour.
The casting choices of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifinakis are excellent. Both of them excel at playing larger than life American Southerners and the two of them have a great chemistry playing off one another. Ferrell basically revisits his Anchorman character and Galafinakis seems to channel Jack Black in Bernie for his portrayal of Marty.
The film serves its purpose fine as a comedy vehicle for Ferrell and Galifinakis but I felt some disappointment in the script served up by Chris Hency and Shawn Harwell. There is so much material, so much potential for them to work with when you look at American politics in the last two years and yet they seem to pull their punches and go for slapstick humour instead. The Motch Brothers are clearly a riff on the famous Koch Brothers that bankrolled Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich but ultimately, the screenwriters only dip their toe in the pool.
Most of the humour is derived from absurd shock value, such as Ferrell punching a baby accidentally. It’s a funny scene, but for a film like this, why not use satirize the actual politicians and use their current platforms? Stage a soup kitchen publicity shoot, go off your meds and laugh hysterically during a national debate, run as a candidate who thinks women have magical vaginas that ward off sex offenders. There is. So. Much. Potential. Granted these are recent examples I’m using but even in the last two years there was a candidate who had to publicly explain she wasn’t a witch, a twice divorced man who cheated on two terminally ill ex-wives who wants to champion the sanctity of marriage and a guy called Anthony Wiener who tweeted pictures of dick to everyone. This stuff practically writes itself!
At the end of the day, this is a passable comedy and it still has its heart in the right place with a cynical view of campaign funding and a rightfully scornful attitude towards businessmen like the Koch Brothers. But it could’ve been more, so much more at the end of the day. Perhaps the timing was off? If they had held off a few more months, some of the stuff they could’ve had to work with…