In the simplest terms, political satire is hard to pull off properly, a point which The Campaign sets out to prove with gusto. The new release centres on the eponymous Congressional campaign in North Carolina, wherein a Grass-roots candidate, Marty Huggins (Galifianackis), is high-jacked by corrupt businessmen with eyes on exploiting the Congressional District for cheap immigrant labour; much to the chagrin of Camden Brady (Ferrell), the incumbent, whose previously unchallenged post is soon to be bankrolled out of the water, roll on “the wacky consequences”.
The film comes to us a few months away from the US Presidential bid, so it would be fair to assume at least a cursory reference to real world events within the past year and perhaps some playful commentary on the state of present day US politics. While the film amiably accommodates a basic, if a little over-exaggerated induction in the down and dirty tactics used by real world political figures (Will Ferrell is positively channelling Mitt Romney at some points), it has a crude sort of satire that doesn’t quite hit the mark it is aiming for. Key elements of back and front-room politics are stripped down to their bare minimums, the Business people are presented as uniformly soulless and nefarious, the congressional bid itself as a practice in constant one-upmanship. It ultimately seems that the film uses the political campaign as an interchangeable framework to facilitate the jokes, rather than an integral theme used to poke fun at real world Politics, which is more than a little disappointing for a comedy released so close to November 11th.
It’s a shame that there was less care taken over consistent theming, as the gags that are facilitated by said framework generally work and are usually quite funny. The stand out for me was a bit part by Karen Marayuma as Miss Yao, an Asian maid who has to maintain a Deep South African-American accent to “Remind her employer of the good old days”. In the brief screen time they are allotted, John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd make an interesting pairing as the Motch brothers. Galifianackis and Ferrell are solid in their respective roles, with some hilarious sight gags (the “accidental shooting” and the “baby punch” both spring to mind), and a good amount of semi-improvisational banter between the two, in fact it wouldn’t be too hard a push to say that the pairing saves the film in many ways. All told, it is a fairly solid comedy; an incredibly paint by numbers affair, that could be quite easily transplanted into another setting with only perfunctory changes to the script. And without the depth or satirical edge hinted at by early trailers, The Campaign is most probably doomed to suffer the same fate as other summer comedies, in relative and unabashed obscurity.
To give a verdict, I would recommend The Campaign to anyone who is looking for something harmless and moderately fun to tide you over until Oscar season. If you were expecting something with the hint of depth that the election-hugging release date would suggest, I’d save up for the coming weeks instead.