Hooray for low expectations. I have to admit that The Campaign was yet another movie I was not looking forward to watching. The trailers looked too silly, and I didn't think this was going to amount to much. Fortunately, The Campaign, while not a particularly good movie, managed to be much funnier that I could have hoped.
Will Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, a North Carolina congressman that's had the good fortune to have been running unopposed for several terms. He's had his share of slip-ups though. Two wealthy business owners (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) have plans for the area and see Cam's current weakness as an opportunity to back a candidate they can manipulate and essentially buy the election. They decide to back the odd son of a friend of theirs, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis).
Marty is naive, and a little weird, but he genuinely cares about his community and thinks he can do some good. With some coaching, he gains support and moves up in the polls, which throws Brady into attack mode. The mudslinging begins!
The Campaign does take some shots at our system with regards to dirty campaigning, rhetoric and political manipulation. However, it doesn't have quite the bite of other political satires, but I don't think you watch a movie starring Ferrell and Galifianakis and expect it to be heady. One thing I did enjoy about the movie, is while Brady is a Democrat and Huggins is a Republican, the movie is free of any partisanship. They don't talk about any issues, and I didn't see any shots taken at either side. This genuinely sticks to 'the campaign', and not much else.
Like many comedies, The Campaign is a mixed bag and the humor has varying levels of success. I imagine when filming, there was lots of improvising and throwing stuff out there until they found something that either stuck or worked well enough to get by. This is rated R, so you do get a lot vulgar and goofy humor, but it has its laugh out loud moments. This is what I expected from director Jay Roach (the Austin Powers series, Meet the Parents), and he sticks to what he knows. I think the movie would have benefit from a stronger screenplay though (written by Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy).
If you're worried that this is just about the leads doing voices and not much else, it's a little more than that. Zack Galifianakis actually played a character, and I enjoyed him where I was initially worried he might annoy me. Will Ferrell's basically doing a variation of his George W. Bush impression, but not quite as dumb. You pretty much know what you're going to get when it comes to Ferrell. Fortunately, I'm a fan, so it worked for me.
One thing I always enjoy about movies like this are how you always seem to get a few standout or scene stealing performances from the supporting cast. For example, Dylan McDermott has a great role as a campaign manager who's job is basically to make Huggins 'not suck'. He has many of the best moments in the film and was a character I wish they could have found more ways to use. Karen Maruyama pops up from time to time in a hilarious role as a maid. I always like seeing Jason Sudeikis and he has a straight-man role as Brady's campaign manager. Much of his best moments simply come out of him being the voice of reason.
With how John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd's characters were always trying to manipulate behind the scenes, I got a bit of a Trading Places feeling from the movie. It probably doesn't help that Aykroyd was in Trading Places. I'm not saying The Campaign is anywhere in that league though.
Much like I said about The Watch, it all depends on how much you like the cast or movies like this. If you've grown tired of Ferrell's man-child shenanigans, or aren't a huge fan of vulgar humor, then there's probably nothing here that's going to win you over. For fans, The Campaign has enough funny moments that made it worth watching. It's also a shorter more, only 85 minutes, so it lets you off easy by not dragging the movie out or running it into the ground. While I think this is more in the rental category, it's one you can watch with a few friends and have a good time with.
3 (out of 5) Death Stars