CliqueClack Flicks

The Campaign – Heavy on laughs, light on meaning

The Campaign - Theater Review
Release Date: 08/10/2012 - MPAA Rating: R
Clacker Rating: 3 Clacks

‘The Campaign’ is a very funny movie, but it fails at its attempts at sincerity.


Perhaps you’ve heard that politics in this country is a bit of a mess. And money? It tends to manipulate things. Radical theories, I know, but there we are. In The Campaign (from Jay Roach, director of the Austin Powers movies), US Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), a Democrat in North Carolina, is running for reelection unopposed until he has a bit of a sex scandal. So the evil billionaire industrialist Motch brothers (played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow in mostly subdued performances, in an obvious reference to real life billionaire industrialist Koch brothers) decide that if Brady is going down, they need to bring in another candidate, one that will hew to the line and follow orders. After all, they literally plan to sell the district to the Chinese (a mild exaggeration of the real world).

Which means introducing naive oddball Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), son of a vague rich politico played by reliable character actor Brian Cox. Although at first he seems destined for failure, he gets help from creepy advisor Tim Wattley (an absolutely killer Dylan McDermott) — and suddenly the two candidates are neck and neck. Let the mud slinging begin! What follows is an ever escalating series of nonsense, where each candidate gets crazier and crazier, in their particular oeuvres. Will Ferrell is classic Will Ferrell here, chomping on a Southern accent with aplomb and blundering through everything with charisma and insanity. Zach Galifianakis goes mild and weird (classic Galifianakis, if you will), utilizing a sort of mincing characterization that belies his theoretical integrity.

But it’s that veneer of civility that ultimately puts this movie into the “That was funny, now let’s talk about something else” category. Yes, there are some crazy stunts and hilarious gags in this movie. Sure, everyone brings their “A” game for the funny stuff — but not quite so much for anything else. At some point, the movie tries to make you care about the characters and political idealism in a wholly unrealistic way. It just doesn’t work. It’s a temptation by the movie to go past the simple idea that “money influences politics” and into “deep down, politicians do care.” Probably seemed like a satisfying way to go about it, but it doesn’t ring true.

Most of the time, it’s “Let’s throw these two comedy powerhouses at each other and see what happens” — that part works quite well. The comedy works, but the movie just feels like it could have been a real classic. Instead, it’s just another on the pile.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

3 Responses to “The Campaign – Heavy on laughs, light on meaning”

August 10, 2012 at 1:56 AM

I thought this was pretty funny, but the housekeeper needs her own show!

August 10, 2012 at 9:36 AM

I was hard pressed to decide if she was being used to make “ethnic accents are funny” jokes because she was Asian – then I realized that obviously she was. She was good, but it’s hard to toe that line.

The movie, though WAS funny – but I think it’s sort of forgettable too.

August 10, 2012 at 11:32 PM

I think the deeper satirical commentary regarding the housekeeper was the belief that all right wing conservatives are inherently racist. Brian Cox’s character wanted her to speak that way because it reminded him of “the good old days.”

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