After watching Will Ferrell’s latest farce, The Campaign
, I couldn’t help but think that a paraphrase of a line from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
was an appropriate description: “Politics was a bad choice.” Despite a semblance of a social message about the evils of money influencing politics, this rude, crude film commits the cardinal sin of comedy: It isn’t funny.
The preview audience was clearly in Ferrell’s corner laughing through every crass, off-color line for the first half-hour or so of the movie’s brief 85-minute run, but finally gave up. The final hour of the film only managed to coax an occasional chuckle or two from the audience and even then, I wasn’t sure why.
Ferrell portrays a smarmy North Carolina Democratic Congressman Cam Brady who is in cruise-control while anticipating an unchallenged run to his fifth term in the House. Brady is a typical longtime member of Congress who will say anything or do anything to retain his position, not because he cares about his constituency, but because he loves the accoutrement of the job.
A pair of evil industrialists, the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), enter the fray with a fiendish plot to take over the district for their corrupt gain. Their idea is to “insource” jobs into the rural North Carolina district, shipping in low-wage foreign workers to take the jobs. To pull the plot off, the evil capitalists must have a boob in office to help them get the favors they need from the government.
Enter Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis, the ne’er-do-well simpleton son of local Republican power broker Raymond Huggins, humorously portrayed by Brian Cox. Marty’s father and the Motch brothers figure the dullard son is the perfect choice to challenge Brady for Congress because they are sure they can control him. What they don’t count on is Marty’s love of community and family or his sense of duty.
Meanwhile, Ferrell’s Brady is appalled that he is actually being challenged for the job. He gets panicky after faring poorly in a debate against Marty, whose campaign is being managed by the dark and mysterious henchman for the Motches, Tim Wattley, well-played by Dylan McDermott. Brady unleashes one boorish salvo after another at his unsuspecting opponent and the battle is on, but the film bogs down and fails to amuse for the remainder of the campaign before finally coming to an absurd and anticlimactic ending.
As a fan of Ferrell’s since his SNL days, I really wanted to like this pic but it simply wasn’t happening. Ferrell seemed to mail this one in. His performance seemed to lack the usual joy that is the comic’s trademark. Galifianakis’ portrayal of Marty was slightly better, but seemed hamstrung by the absurdity of the script. Lithgow and Aykroyd were amusing as the Motch brothers as was Cox as Marty’s father. Perhaps the funniest character in the entire film was Mrs. Yao, the Huggins family housekeeper, played brilliantly by Karen Maruyama, who utilizes a number of hilarious dialects throughout the film to elicit some huge laughs. Another highlight for this old rock-and-roll fan was a brief cameo by Randy Bachman and Fred Turner performing their old Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit, “Taking Care of Business.” - Mike Gallien