Release Date: August 10th, 2012 (US); September 28th, 2012 (UK)
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis
Released in the midst of the 2012 Presidential Election in the United States, The Campaign struggles to reach the lofty heights set by Jay Roach’s previous work. More often than not the jokes are without any real substance and by the time the credits finish rolling, the film has cemented its place as a forgettable one.
The Campaign follows the naive Marty Huggins’ introduction into politics as he is propelled into the normally competition-scarce race for election in North Carolina’s 14th District. His opponent, Cam Brady, has spent the previous four terms as congressman of the district due to nobody running against him. However, two corrupt businessman use Brady’s involvement in an indecent incident to install Huggins into the race, with their motives less than noble and their focus solely on using Huggins to strike a profit-blazing deal with a Chinese company.
The film is at its best and funniest when it gets the political satire elements right (pointing out how far politicians will go to expose each other, for example), but too often these attempts fall flat and instead come across more like parody sketches on politics. When the events begin to enter the parody realm, the film veers dangerously close to Meet The Spartans and Epic Movie territory (although not quite as bad as either of those). This is unfortunate as the few times the writing does work the film is very funny, particularly with the added bonus of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis who are fully versed in successfully delivering humour with the correct material put before them.
Another problem The Campaign encounters is that there is no clear character to root for (perhaps this an intentional attempt to mirror real life election battles). From the get-go it is clear that the villain of the piece is intended to be Cam Brady (Ferrell’s character). Brady comes across as a cocky, chauvinistic jerk, and Ferrell plays the role to a T. With the introduction of Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins, it is clear that the simple tourism director is set to be the sympathetic character. Brady is obnoxious, often degrading Huggins and taking advantage of the political newcomer’s nativity. However, the film does not even reach the half-way mark before the roles begin to reverse and Brady becomes the brunt of all of the jokes. The influential businessmen we see at the beginning of the film are clearly the puppeteers who are in need some sort of comeuppance, but they do not appear on-screen often enough to develop their nastiness and be paraded as the bad guys — must the audience rely on what they know from previous films of similar ilk to decipher who is playing what role? The Campaign sorts itself out in the end, but by then it is too late as the two main characters are not really worth caring about.
It is not all bad news though. As mentioned beforehand, Roach and the writers — Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell — do hit the correct notes on a number of occasions and the film does conjure up a couple of genuinely humorous moments. Ferrell and Galifianakis play off of each other well enough, but neither really seem to be completely committed 100 percent to the cause. In fact, Ferrell’s Brady holds a number of similar characteristics to those of his much-loved Anchorman character, Ron Burgundy. However the difference between the two is clear — Burgundy is given both the time and the correct narrative to evolve and become something more than just an egotistical news anchor, whereas Brady must suffice with punching babies and being a horrible father. Galifianakis is essentially playing the same role he has played since starring in The Hangover. It is not that the role is not funny, rather it is just not funny the fifth time around.
The Campaign suffers from one or two glaring problems, namely a weak script and non-existent character roles. Nothing really sticks out: the performances are nothing special, the laughs are few and far between and story is over-played and without inspiration. With that being said, Roach, Henchy and Harwell do get the balance of discreet-yet-understandable humour correct on a few occasions and the film is better for it. Perhaps Roach should have cast Rick Santorum in the role of Marty Huggins — at least then there would have been a consistent cause for laughter.