Now, let’s be honest with ourselves. Zach “The One Stuff Happens To” Galifianakis and Will “Confident Hair” Ferrell were never really going to be the ones to take on a dressing down of the US electoral system. Neither was director Jay Roach, the only man in history able to claim responsibility for both Dinner For Schmucks and Little Fockers. Perhaps The Campaign was never meant to try for dizzying heights; perhaps – unlike our own political lol-fest, Nick Clegg – it was never going to make us promises it couldn’t deliver. See that? That was some excellent political humour. If you understood that excellently political bit of humour, you’re probably too smart for The Campaign. For the rest of you, COME ON IN! WE PUNCH BABIES TOO!
So, bimbo-porking, tie-wearing, hair-confidenting democrat Cam Brady (Ferrell) is running for North Carolina’s Congress for a fourth consecutive term. The crowds love him, his wife looks good bending over, and his mantra of “Family! Jesus! Freedom!” hasn’t let him down yet, whatever it means. But after a few too many brushes with media infamy (damn those bimbos and their porking-spilling ways), some dark-hearted business tycoons (Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow) decide to sponsor a new, unknown candidate, hoping to gain control over some land for *insert ridiculous bad businessman reason probably from The Muppets or something*.
Faster than you can say Trading Places, they find their man: Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), the sweetest, most wearyingly effeminate man to ever sport a handlebar moustache. But with Marty genuinely wanting to do some good in his town and his investors grooming him for treachery, how long will it be before benevolent intent comes to blows with that baby’s face or political corruption or whatever?
It’s not that The Campaign isn’t funny. Ferrell and Galifianakis both throw themselves into their roles with gusto, with Ferrell in particular reminding us that he’s a comedian who damn well knows how to have a proper shout. The maniacal off-the-cuff stuff (most notably in Brady’s campaign headquarters) far outstrips the lacklustre script, leaving you wishing writers Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell had put half the effort into the construction of the film that the performers put into the execution. Galifianakis is slightly more grating as Huggins, with a mincing physicality that seems at first to be little more than a cheap gag, and a slightly uncomfortable one at that. But there’s no denying his delivery, and even as the jokes descend into lazy idiocy (punch this, punch that, are you a Taliban member, shag this, that door opens this way etc etc), he never quite loses his likability.
The problem is that it’s just all far too easy. With a subject matter waiting to be ripped apart, The Campaign’s shots at increasingly ridiculous voter-baiting tactics seem to miss the point in their ludicrousness –why bloat reality when its already begging to be punctured? And what makes it all the stranger is that it genuinely seems to want to Say Something, with a bafflingly heartwarming ending that seems to come straight from a spin-doctor’s dream.
Whether it’s down to a fear of genuinely causing political offense, a disinterest in the subject itself or – as I suspect – simply a lack of real ingenuity, The Campaign never really seems to truly engage with its subject, resulting in a film that is above par for a gross-out comedy, but certainly a disappointment where genuine satire is concerned. It might be able to clock a baby in the face, but when it comes to the real target, The Campaign just isn’t capable of delivering a hit.