With it being election year in America you would have hoped for a little insight or commentary from Hollywood. Instead with two very different films that may actually make people think about political systems and power – Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty – both scheduled for release in December after Obama’s face-off with Romney is decided, it seems like the best we can hope for is Jay Roach’s satirical look at a ficticious congressional race.
The Campaign stars Will Ferrell as Cam Brady, the sitting congressman for North Carolina’s 14th District who is running unopposed toward his fifth term. The Motch brothers, an influential duo based on Charles and David Koch (the Republican party’s sugar daddies) decide they need a new puppet who will allow them to set up 50c/hr Chinese factories in the town of Hammond. They select Marty Huggins (Zack Galifianakis), son of one of their associates.
Huggins is a very simple (literally) family man who works as the town’s tourism director, a role that consists of giving a daily bus tour to one or two people. SNL alumni Jason Sudeikis plays Mitch, Cam’s campaign manager with the shady Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) being parachuted in by the Motch brothers to run the Huggins campaign.
The Campaign is directed by Jay Roach, a man with a rather unusual filmography. Credits include Austin Powers and Meet the Parents, but also more serious work that deals with the American political system like Recount and Game Change. In other words, you’re looking for someone to direct your political comedy? Jay should be your man. It’s this pedigree that makes it harder to accept that his latest piece of work is so forgettable with so little to say. The alluding to Chinese economics, Super PACs and the Motch/Koch brothers all set the film up to be something it’s not.
So with the plot being a timid washout, it’s a relief to know that the film is still funny enough to be worthwhile. The best in show award goes to Galifianakis for a variation on his twin brother character Seth Galifianakis, who long-time fans will know from his Live at the Purple Onion live show and Between Two Ferns online series. With Ferrell such a gifted improvisational comedian, you imagine making the film may well have been more fun than actually sitting down to watch it. Credit to the editors for not throwing in everything though and keeping things lean and mean at 85 minutes.
If you’re willing to forget about the politics and want a few dumb laughs then there are certainly worse things you could stomach than The Campaign, just be sure to wash it down with a chaser of something like The War Room, Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker’s 1992 documentary on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign.
USA / Directed By: Jay Roach / Written By: Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell / Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis / 85min / Comedy / Release: 10th August 2012 (US/Canada), 28 September 2012 (UK/Ireland)
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