This being an election year, its natural for Hollywood to capitalize on it. Hence, THE CAMPAIGN, an ultimately disappointing melange of wit and silliness. There is much about which to make sport in the American democratic process, and much of it is covered here, but not consistently well, and with little originality.
The eponymous electoral race is for the 14th Congressional District in North Carolina. The incumbent, the smug Cam Bradley (Will Ferrell) is both beloved by his constituents and unopposed as he prepares to run for his fifth term, until he misdials an obscene phone call and his poll numbers drop. This doesnt put a crimp in his marriage to an ambitious blonde ice-princess (Katharine LaNasa), but it does make his corporate backers (John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd) nervous. Sensing that their plans to maximize profits with a fiendish plan involving the Chinese government might be imperiled by a compromised candidate, they find themselves a new horse to back, one that they think will be easy to control (read naïve) and not embarrass himself. That would be Marty Huggins (Zack Galifianakis), a gentle, roly-poly man with effeminate tendencies, a bad sense of style, and, against all reason, a perky, adoring wife (Sarah Baker) and two kids. For him, this is a chance to prove himself to his imposingly crusty father (Brian Cox), and so some good for the place he loves.
Its the clueless against the craven in a story that is wildly uneven and barely coherent. When the satire is good, its painfully sharp, when its not, its also painful, but not in a good way. Ferrell, who wrote and starred in a gloriously fine-tuned almost one-man show about George W. Bush, shows the same cocky air-headed arrogance here, but with the middling material, its not as much fun as it should be. Galifianakis, as the innocent abroad in a thorny world of politics, has the same problem, particularly when, in mid-film, Marty does a personality 180 that comes out of nowhere and retreats just as quickly. The most consistently entertaining character in THE CAMPAIGN is the secondary one played by Dylan McDermott. Hes the stealth campaign manager hired by big money who pops out of nowhere, dressed in black, and with sotto voice, grim expression, and a steely gaze announces that he is there to make the candidate in question not suck. That his name is Tim Wattley is probably a shout-out, with a spelling variation to the dentist on Seinfeld, as are the surrealistic overtones, but the rest of the flick should in no way be confused with the excellence of that series.
As for the righteous drubbing of the political system, there are a few noteworthy flourishes that are wickedly hilarious involving small dogs, campaign commercials, and a baby. Verisimilitude is attempted by sprinkling real-world cable television pundits throughout, but in the end, it is Farrell at his puckish best, an Galifianakis as a koala bear, that elevate the material that is slap-dash when it is not slap-happy.