If you're in the political mood -- and who isn't these days? -- but weary of all the obnoxious ads and partisan hackery as this election cycle winds down, you could do worse than The Campaign as an 85-minute reprieve. Director Jay Roach, who is probably most famous for his work on the Austin Powers films, has turned to politics in recent years, directing Recount and Game Change for HBO.
The Campaign, then, is a blend of his C.V. to date -- a pointed satire of how absurd the American political process has become even at the local level. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are the engines for his satire, pitted against each other as rival candidates in a hotly contested North Carolina congressional race. Ferrell is Cam Brady, the lecherous incumbent accustomed to running unopposed and championing now thoroughly empty buzzwords like "Jesus" and "freedom." If Ricky Bobby, Ferrell's character from Talladega Nights, had a political career, this is what it would look like. When Brady accidentally leaves a vulgar message intended for his mistress Shana on an unsuspecting family's answering machine, the billionaire Motch brothers (played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide to throw their support and their SuperPAC money behind a new candidate, both because they are embarrassed by Brady's antics and because they believe their new candidate will allow them to bring cheap Chinese labor and factories to this district.
The Motch brothers settle on propping up Galifianakis' Marty Huggins, the director of the local tourism center and the strange, Pug-loving son of an old political ally Raymond (Brian Cox). Marty is ill-equipped to oppose Brady at first, but a series of gaffes by Brady and the work of hotshot campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) turns it in to a tight race.
Ferrell is the unquestionable highlight of this film (honorable mention to McDermott and Ferrell's campaign manager Mitch, played by Jason Sudeikis) -- his ridiculous improvisations providing almost all of the memorable moments and serving as yet another reminder of why he's the funniest actor around right now. My personal favorite was the voicemail that made him vulnerable. ("I just stepped away from a family dinner to tell you I wish I wasn't eating fried steak. I wish I was eating Shana pussy.") On the flip side, Galifianakis is a bit of a disappointment. No one wears a turtleneck and ugly sweater better than him, but there wasn't much of a comedic edge to his character. In fact, Marty Huggins reminded me more of the quirky, effeminate murderer Jack Black played in Bernie than of The Hangover's Alan.
My other big qualm -- and this has seemed to plague all of the major comedies I've seen this year -- is that The Campaign just didn't seem to know how to end. Maybe that's what Roach was going for given how endless this election cycle has seemed, but I doubt it. Once all the laughs had been squeezed out of the odd-couple election pairing, it floundered -- the incoherent third act moving glacially. That's a fairly sizable flaw given that the whole thing comes in at under an hour and a half, and one of which I would probably be more critical if basically every other comedy I have seen this year didn't have the same problem.
Ferrell, as almost always, is worth your time anyway, and so is a chuckle or two at the expense of the farce our political process has become.