With the American political field becoming more and more ridiculous by the day, the timing is right for a sharp political satire. Unfortunately, The Campaign is about as sharp as a ball.
The setup, briefly: when incumbent Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is caught in a sex scandal, his previously uncontested run for office gets some competition from Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), a stupendously naïve citizen chosen by the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) to help pass legislation that benefits their financial interests.
The Campaign tries to touch on the ridiculousness of 21st century American politics, going so far as the creation of the Motch brothers (stand-ins for the real-life Koch brothers). While it does play with some familiar political campaigning tropes, including an admittedly humorous take on the “kiss-the-baby” concept, The Campaign is too timid to actually go anywhere with its concepts. It’s so timid, in fact, that (spoiler alert) the ultimate fate of the Motch brothers is revealed during the end credits of the film, rather than being incorporated into the main film.
Also not helping the film are the number of jokes that fall flat. The film’s running time is a scant 85 minutes, but it feels longer – much longer. How audiences will react might depend on their love of Ferrell and Galifianakis, both of whom are playing to type in the broadest sense of the term.
There was certainly potential for this movie to offer more bite. Director Jay Roach most recently directed the HBO films Game Change and Recount, both of which offered legitimate commentary on recent political events. Instead, this film falls more in line with Roach’s theatrical works, which include the Austin Powers films and Meet the Parents. Maybe Roach should take another stab at directing a political satire. If he does, though, he should make it something for HBO.