Jay Roach's political comedy couldn't have come at a better time. Just as the U.S. is beginning to suffer from the fatigue that comes with enduring the final months of the heated presidential campaign between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis give us exactly what we need: a good laugh.
The Campaign stars Ferrell as Conservative Senate shoe-in Cam Newton, who gets himself in a bit of a campaigning pickle - if you can call a widely publicized sexual slip-up a pickle - and prompts the powers that be (an evil duo courtesy of the always fantastic John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) to bring in a ringer: Marty Huggins (Galifianakis). Huggins is flanked by his two trusty pugs and spends his days giving empty trolley tours of his tiny, North Carolina town - a naïve, happy existence that flummoxes his former political operator of a father (Brian Cox). But once Marty's appointed campaign manager gangster Tim (a ruthless and surprisingly hilarious Dylan McDermott) Pretty-Womans the grinning familial misfit into a standard cutthroat political candidate, the messy, misinformation-driven games begin.
Everything we've ever feared or discovered about our shiny politicians during campaign season is magnified for the sake of this 90-minute cathartic joke. Right as Romney and Obama are getting headlines for the underhanded, loosely regulated practice that is the campaign commercial, Ferrell and Galifianakis' characters take the seemingly lawless practice to a wonderful, hyperbolic place where having a mustache makes you a friend of Sadam Hussein and splicing quotes to blaspheme your opponent is kosher. Oh wait, that last part is actually true.
This story, from frequent Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay along with Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, plays on the clichés of the campaign trail and dresses them up with baby-punching and butt-licking. Right out of the gate, we're treated to Ferrell cheating on his wife with a squealing harlot in a porta-potty. The writers have no mercy for the political world, and coincidentally, neither do most of us. And even as the film stretches the limits of our ability to stomach schlocky, gross gags, it's not entirely uncalled for. In fact, this over-the-top flick is practically an extension of the way many of us view the idea of campaigning in the U.S. - the key is abject cynicism.
Raunchy gags are the name of the game, but The Campaign doesn't shirk the necessary weight of its source material. Sure, Ferrell's requisite nude scene merits a few giggles, but it's the moments that are centered on speeches and strategy that really make the film. They're rife with spot-on, frustrated commentary about the emptiness of political speeches and promises, and draped in the hilarious inflections of the films' funnymen.
But beyond the parts that make us laugh hard enough to eke out a sideways tear, The Campaign actually has something that most raunchy Ferrell comedies only purport deliver: a heart-warming, gooey center. We can chalk this up to Galifianikis' Marty, who represents the political fantasy we try to believe in every election: the existence of a truly honest, well-meaning politician. He's the guy who runs on the platform that "Washington is a mess" and he actually believes he can clean it up. When Cam is running his mouth about loving America, Marty is the one who actually offers up idealistic solutions. To some extent Marty is a character we've seen before, but he's this bright spot that keeps The Campaign from becoming a long-form rant.
In addition to Galifianakis' lovable Marty, we find gems in the form of McDermott - whose phantom-like presence throughout the film is always worth a laugh - and newcomer Katherine La Nasa as Rose, Cam's gut-wrenchingly opportunistic Barbie of a wife. Oddly enough, a big name like Jason Sudeikis receives low-billing this time around, and perhaps it's because his role is a rather mild one for a man who's solidified himself as the overgrown frat-boy du jour. Still, it's Galifianakis who carries the film, and Farrell's usual shtick that provides the platform for his character's unavoidable goodness.
The Campaign is a surprising, oddly adorable summer comedy, combining the disgusting, cringe-worthy visuals we've come to expect from a Will Ferrell flick with the brains we hope for any time we see the word "political" tied to a film.
Hollywood.com rated this film 4 stars.