The Campaign is almost better than the real thing

When it comes to easy comedy targets, ducks don’t sit around asking for it more than US politicians.  Will Ferrell, star of The Campaign, is certainly no stranger to lampooning political figures.  The “Saturday Night Live” alum’s George W Bush impression has been fine-tuned to comedic perfection.  It’s this knack for mocking the Republicans’ finest that has provided the inspiration for the frivolous election farce of The Campaign.

As the conservative incumbent Congressman from North Carolina, Ferrell adopts a Southern drawl for his portrayal of the womanising Cam Brady.  When the evil, capitalist brothers Motch (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, looking mostly out of place and happy to have a paycheque) hope to sell the local district to China, the would-be puppet masters back Zach Galifianakis’ goofy family-man, the moustachioed Marty Huggins, as their candidate to take Brady’s seat.  Beyond the throw-away plot that sets up the electoral race, the vast majority of The Campaign is little more than each man attempting to sling more mud than the other.  Vulgar jokes and physical gags abound, as The Campaign perseveres in light of its own misfires in delivering a largely entertaining 86 minutes of absurd laughs, which are often funny because they’re not far off of the truth.

Neither Ferrell nor Galifianakis treads new ground here, as both essentially revert back to roles they’ve played previously.  With Ferrell one foot in Bush territory as Cam, the awkward Marty seems very much like a Southern fried Alan (of The Hangover) with a side of wife and kids.  Still, the duo has an enjoyable chemistry together, as Galifianakis plays the underdog to Ferrell’s alpha male.  Jason Sudeikis and Dylan McDermott are excellent additions as the opposing campaign managers trying to establish control over their increasingly difficult bosses.

That Ferrell and Galifianakis can deliver laughs with ease, depending on the strength of their material, is more or less a given.  Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell’s script is a mixed bag of sight gags, one liners, skits and running jokes (the old-fashioned, “Southern” maid is a stroke of brilliance).  Cam’s initial scandal, dubbed “The Phone Call” is so delightfully crass that it works despite itself.  A baby punching scene is actually only funny due to Farrell’s reactions to it and the eventual call-back that is even more absurd in its nature, but wonderfully so.  Much of The Campaignis contrived and this will likely stick with some, but at least it’s largely good-humoured fun, as opposed to the cruel laughs harvested by films like Ted.  Yes, that does assume that politicians are fair game, but there will be few who’d argue otherwise.  The sad fact is that much of what The Campaign presents as over-the-top comedy isn’t far removed from the realities of American politics.  While The Campaign targets only the Republicans (for good reasons, as the hypocrisy on the right is especially foul), the scandals and mudslinging it depicts are endemic throughout both political parties.

With Meet the Parents and Austin Powers director Jay Roach behind the camera, the visual gags and subtleties are well captured on screen, especially with a drunken joy ride making the most of an alternate perspective.  Nothing stands out stylistically, one way or the other, in The Campaign, but big joke moments, such as the “Rainbow Land” riot are delivered just as they need to be, without ever running too long.

Some of the funny-because-it’s-true charm may be lost on markets outside of the US, but often The Campaign is sadly representative of the state of modern politics, even its the results aren’t always as giggle inducing as Ferrell and co might have hoped.  There are some big laughs to be had, despite numerous miscues and, on the whole, The Campaign is a lot of cynical, satirical fun.  One risk that comes with spoofing politicians is that the targets border on self-parody to begin with.  The Campaign entertains well enough, but it has a long way to go to reach Mitt Romney’s level of mind-boggling, absurdist hilarity.  7.5


The Campaign is in UK cinemas 28 September

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