It’s hard to turn on a TV this time of year without being subjected to half a dozen mud-slinging political ads on every commercial break or to turn on one of the 24-hour news networks without hearing all the bad things one candidate has to say about the other followed by what the second candidate has to say about the first and so on in an endless cycle. Quite frankly, the political season is a chaotic circus, and as director Jay Roach showcases with “The Campaign,” political satire can be comedy gold.
“The Campaign” pits Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis against each other in a raunchy comedy that both entertains with quick wits, slapstick and zany characters and effectively comments on the state of politics today at the same time. “The Campaign’s” message could have been lost for the sake of broader comedy just as easily as it could have been turned into a mediocre political snorefest, but Roach, the perfect man to helm this project, toed a near perfect line between the two. Although Roach is probably best known for his broad comedies like the “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” series, Roach has also shown he knows a thing or two about politics and drama. The director also was behind two great HBO political dramas, “Recount,” about the 2000 presidential election, and “Game Change,” which is about the campaign of John McCain and Sarah Palin.
In “The Campaign,” Ferrell, channeling his G.W. Bush impersonation from “SNL,” plays Cam Brady, a Democratic career politician representing North Carolina. The representative, who knows more about campaigning than representing his district, falls out of grace with his backers, the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), when a scandal disrupts his campaign. The brothers (a thinly veiled parody of the real-life Koch brothers) cut off Brady and put all of their money into ensuring that the soft-spoken head of tourism, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) wins the election.
While Brady just loves being a politician, Huggins actually wants to make a change in Washington D.C. What he doesn’t realize is how much Washington D.C. is going to change him. The Motch brothers hire Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) as Huggins’ campaign manager. Wattley, who seems more like a hitman than a campaign manager, gives Huggins and his family a complete makeover, even replacing the family’s “un-American” pugs (They’re from China, you know.)
As much as “The Campaign” is about the people behind elections, it’s about how politics can change even the purest candidate. At the beginning of the film the pushover Huggins can’t even trash talk his opponent, but by the end he’s pulling all the dirty campaign tricks in the book.
Although Brady is a Democrat and Huggins is a Republican, Roach, whose “Game Change” was criticized by some as biased, smartly avoids that aspect of politics. “The Campaign” features very little about party politics and focuses on the ridiculousness of campaigns. The film’s real criticism focuses on the people behind elections and the money that sways politicians towards their backers’ goals.
For those of us who are tired of hearing the latest dirt on all the candidates, it feels like November will never get here. Until then, “The Campaign” gives us something to laugh at while proving that election season is nothing short of comically ludicrous.