Despite the fact that director Jay Roach is best known as the man behind the camera for the Austin Powers series and the first two-thirds of the Meet the Parents series (I contemplated saying Roach was the "mind" behind those films, but I'm not sure that's the right word), he is actually no stranger to politically-centered films. Roach directed HBO's Game Change that premiered earlier this year, and won multiple Emmys for 2008's Recount.
Whereas both Game Change (based on the 2008 campaign and, specifically, Sarah Palin) and Recount (the debacle surrounding the 2000 presidential election) dealt with actual events, The Campaign is Roach's first full-blown attempt at political satire. The satire isn't subtle and is actually more recognizable than most would hope: two opponents in a local Congressional campaign will stop at nothing to win via destroying the other. Sound familiar?
Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, an incumbent Congressional candidate from North Carolina running unopposed, as he has multiple times before. When a voicemail exposing Brady as an adulterer surfaces, two local, wealthy businessmen named the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) devise a plan to pit another candidate against Brady in the upcoming election. Their endgame? An idea they call "insourcing" whereby they bring cheap foreign labor into the town, thus putting locals out of work in an attempt to maximize profit.
The man they choose is the lovable (relative term) dimwit and local mainstay Marty Huggins (Zach Galifinakis), who is, of course, blind to the Motch's plan. With the help of his secretive campaign manager, Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott - I'm not sure whether the Seinfeld reference was intentional or not), and against his better judgment, Huggins engages Brady in what evolves into as dirty and ridiculous a campaign as anyone could imagine.
The Campaign is the type of film that I really don't have a whole lot to say about. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy it - it's actually much funnier than I initially anticipated (I initially anticipated this being entirely unfunny, so who knows whether the laughs will hold up on subsequent viewings).
It just is what it is, and it's exactly what you'd expect it to be. The humor is irreverent and raunchy, and the story more than somewhat resembles the one in Talladega Nights, except with politicians instead of race car drivers. There are actually multiple scenes that duplicate Talledega almost directly. There are also more quick, back and forth changes of heart than there probably should have been.
Despite its frequent obviousness and the stale narrative, there are a lot of laughs to be had, including a handful of big laugh moments that have the potential to become classic Ferrell sequences. Galifinakis is more or less annoying throughout, but he manages to get his moments as well. The real surprise from a comedic standpoint is McDermott, who outshines the veterans almost every time he's on screen.
What's no surprise is where the political satire is aimed. While not directly imitating any member of the Bush family as we know he can, Ferrell's Brady definitely draws on the former president. And even though Galafinakis is dubbed the Republican candidate, leading one to assume that his opponent might call himself a Democrat, Ferrell is never actually labeled as such (Ferrell would be the worse of the two on a moral and ethical level if one were forced to choose).
Combine this with the obvious references to the real-life Koch brothers, the ridiculous reversal of outsourcing principals, and rigged voting machines and it's pretty obvious that the GOP is the object of most of the ridicule.
The Campaign is nothing new, but it is funny. Some moments I would even say are pretty hilarious. You could do a lot worse when it comes to Ferrell's more recent output.