Not one of their best from either of this pair, but their viciousness and tenacity keep the comedy rolling with never a dull moment.
Will Ferrell’s schtick is getting more than a little long in the tooth, but the SNL veteran still has a few laughs up his sleeve as he re-teams with Adam McKay to bring us the political comedy, The Campaign. McKay only produces and receives a story credit this time around, for a screenplay by Eastbound & Down writers Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy. In the director’s chair is Jay Roach, no stranger to comedy having helmed the Austin Powers series and the first two Meet The Parents films. Truth be told, we’ve seen Farrell play characters exactly like North Carolina congressman Camden “Cam” Brady before: sex-starved, clueless and often just plain dumb. It’s Ferrell’s ability to say the most outrageous things with a stone-face that puts him ahead of the pack and matching him word for word is none other than Zach Galifinakis. The mudslinging grows to epic proportions as the pair compete for control of a small North Carolina congressional district.
Ferrell’s Cam Brady is like Bill Clinton on speed, an unopposed, four-term incumbent who gets the shock of his life when at the eleventh hour, Galifinakis’s Marty Huggins, puts his own name on the ballot. But just who the hell is Marty Huggins? Why he’s a mild-mannered, effeminate husband and father of two who owns a travel agency and knows nothing about politics. Driven by his over-bearing retired political operator of a father (Brian Cox), Marty’s idea to run for Congress is not his own, but that of industrialists the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow). Sounds like “the Marx Brothers when you say it fast, but in actuality, the cold-hearted siblings are based on real-life billionaires the Koch brothers. Their fictional counterparts have come up with an evil scheme that will bring third world factory workers to N.C. called “Insourcing” and naïve patsy Marty, determined to prove his worth to his father, has no idea he’s being set-up as a puppet.
In Cam’s corner is long time friend and right hand man Mitch, appropriately played by Jason Sudeikis, who makes a perfect foil for Ferrell’s shenanigans. For years, Mitch has had the unlucky task of cleaning up Cam’s blunders, some of which have caused his approval ratings to plummet. Like the time he thought he was leaving a dirty message on the answering machine of his mistress when it was actually the home of a proud Christian family.
Mild-mannered Marty finds out he has to play hardball against his opponent when Cam takes off the kid gloves and publically embarrasses him early on. To reshape his image, the Koch brothers bring in legendary campaign manager Tim Wattley (an incredibly hilarious Dylan McDermott), who is something of an animal. In time, Wattley’s predator instincts begin to rub off on Marty, much to the horror of his doting wife Mitzi (Sarah Baker). Watching tapes of Burt Reynolds being tough in some of his old movies may also have something to do with it. At one point Marty even confronts Cam at a debate, producing evidence that he may be a communist. Did I mention the so-called “evidence” is a crayon picture book Cam drew when he was eight? Wattley and Marty’s attack on Cam’s character gets vicious to the point where Huggins secretly tapes an encounter with Brady’s neglected son, asking if the teen would like to call him “Dad”. Against the advice of Mitch, Cam comes up with the harebrained scheme of secretly taping his own campaign ad not with one of Marty’s sons, but the neglected and sexually frustrated Mitzi. “My heart’s beating like a phone book in a dryer”, Cam reveals just before seducing her. Yes folks, things get that dirty.
Neither of Ferrell’s or Galifinakis’ characters in The Campaign are particularly likable, it’s how low these two are willing to go in their battle against each other that’s infinitely entertaining. Even when one of them makes an attempt at a truce with the suggestion they handle the race in a civil fashion, the other stabs him in the back. Running less than ninety minutes, The Campaign has a strong two thirds before running of steam and copping out by giving the main characters moral backbones at the eleventh hour. Not every gag or one liner Ferrell and Galifinakis throws at us work, but they deliver them with conviction and should be applauded for their tenacity. Thankfully, they’re given strong support from the likes of Sudeikis, McDermott and even Cox, the latter known for more powerful dramatic performances. Cox sees Galifinakis as such a disappointment that he tells him, “you look like Richard Simmons crapped out a goddamned Hobbit!” Early on in the film, it’s revealed that his Asian-American housekeeper (Karen Maruyama) is required to talk in a thick Southern accent because “it reminds em of dee ole dayzzz.” Little character bits like that or McDermott’s ability to suddenly materialize are what keep the humor rolling and help the story tread water. The Campaign was originally called “Dog Fight” which in my opinion was a more appropriate title since the two leads fight like bloodthirsty canines. They act more like barking chihuahuas than drooling rottweilers, but its still funny.