The Campaign

The CampaignSynopsis: America. Liberty. Freedom. Candidates Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) and Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) care about none of these as they race for the North Carolina congressional seat. When four-term incumbent Brady finds himself involved in a scandal, the wealthy powers that be decide to back newcomer Huggins as their pawn against him. As voting day approaches, the two literally pull no punches in the dirtiest and funniest political fight of all time… or at least until the next election.

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The Campaign 6.5

eyelights: the maid. Cam’s poor judgement.
eyesores: its uninspired humour. Cam’s poor judgement

“Bring your brooms cause it’s a mess.”

I knew going into ‘The Campaign’ that the odds of being amused were slim; I’ve never been much of a Will Ferrell fan and Zach Galifianakis has not impressed me thus far. But, as the 58th U.S. presidential election reared its ugly head, I was desperate to watch something funny to counter the bile and vitriol.

Other than ‘Being There‘, that is.

And so I took up the challenge of watching this 2012 comedy, which was released just as the 57th U.S. presidential election neared, hoping that it might be more clever than it likely was, praying to the gods that at the very least it would eke out a few laughs along the way. My expectations weren’t very high.

And it’s good thing, too, as ‘The Campaign’ is your usual Will Ferrell fodder: cheap laughs, awkward moments, and uninspired performances. At best, one could say that it’s middle-of-the-road, enough so that it won’t put off too many people, but also enough so that it offers absolutely nothing new or noteworthy.

From the onset, the picture serves up all the stereotypes of politics, with a stiff introduction to Congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell), who is running for re-election unopposed. That is, until the fallout of a sex scandal switches the allegiances of powerbrokers the Motch Brothers and an opposing candidate appears.

That candidate: perennial loser Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), whom they are confident they will be able to shape and control. Their aim: to change the law so that they may bring cheap labour into his county and make a fortune. Thus begins a nasty campaign between the two candidates as each tries to gain the upper hand.

Personally, I thought that the writing was lazy. I mean, the sex scandal that embroiled Brady was silly enough to get a few laughs, but his reaction to it was genuinely stupid – as were Brady’s reactions to just about everything, leaving you to wonder how he could have succeeded in the past. Who’d vote for this jerk?

His judgement is so poor that he gets into a public kerfuffle with Huggins and decides to punch him. Seriously. In front of TV news crews and everything! Naturally, it goes bad and he punches a baby instead. He will also later knock out a dog. And release a sex video of himself having sex with Huggins’ spouse.

Um… yeah.

I mean, his lack of judgement is funny in and of itself, but it’s not funny contextually; there’s no way that this guy has been groomed to be a upstanding citizen and well-respected political animal and then just tosses everything overnight like this. I just couldn’t buy that this jerk off could even be a candidate.

Meanwhile, Huggins is a soft, well-meaning individual with quaint attitudes and taste. A tour trolley guide, he has no political instincts and isn’t especially liked by anyone except his spouse and two kids; he’s a constant disappointment to his wealthy father, who makes it clear that he will never earn his respect.

But, for some reason, he wins public support very early on, during a public debate in which he serves up a couple of lines of platitudes that I suppose were intended to be inspiring. Frankly, I didn’t get the appeal at all. It would only have made sense if the people cheering him were Motch brothers plants.

Which leads me to the Motch brothers themselves, which is an interesting idea that never really took off. We have to assume that they’re powerful, but they just pop up from time to time to make comments; we never see them actually pull any significant strings. Well, at least they weren’t called the Cock brothers.

With this film, anything could have been possible.

The only appealing aspect of this failed bit of satire (the Koch brothers are actual powerbrokers) is that Dan Aykroyd is one of them, playing with John Lithgow similar roles that Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy played in ‘Trading Places‘. If they’d gotten Eddie Murphy instead of Lithgow, this would have been genius.

Alas, that was too much to ask for here.

The only true laugh that this whole picture got from me is when Marty is convinced to get on the Republican ticket and goes home to ask his kids to tell him if they have any secrets that might come to light and trip up his campaign. The admissions that they all make were surprising enough that I roared with laughter.

I also found the idea that Ms. Yao, Huggins’ dad’s maid, is forced by her employer to speak in a traditional southern African-American fashion, for nostalgia’s sake, rather funny. The contrast is startling to start with but the fact that she herself finds it ridiculous but does it for the extra 50$ a week made me chuckle.

But, otherwise, ‘The Campaign’ is a snoozefest, stringing together a modest numbers of mediocre gags that don’t amount to much – especially after Trump. It’s the weakest form of satire, superficially touching on its subject but never going deep enough to afford its audience something to truly sink its teeth in.

In 2016, you might as well tune in to the real thing. It would actually be side-splitting to watch, if so much didn’t ride on it.

Date of viewing: October 20, 2016

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