By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s satire disguised as the movie equivalent of a whoopee cushion.
It’s The Campaign, a broad, cheery political comedy that skewers cockamamie contemporary politics while trying to be spit-out-your-popcorn hysterical.
What’s right about it? That it’s not afraid to be crude and juvenile.
What’s wrong with it? Why, that it’s crude and juvenile!
Does it succeed as satire? Given that the target is this easy and we know that it should be more polished, yes and no. But just enough “yes” to get our vote.
Will Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, a four-term Democratic congressman representing a small district in North Carolina who has been caught in a sex scandal.
Zach Galifianakis co-stars as the incumbent’s Republican challenger, Marty Huggins, a political outsider and naif -– to say the least -– who is plucked from obscurity (he’s the director of the local tourism center) by two ultra-wealthy CEOs with a strong, self-serving agenda who want Brady out.
At first the candidates debate. Then they start insulting and ridiculing. Dirty tricks and mudslinging follow. And before you know it, the mud isn’t just being slung, it’s being jet-propelled.
With Jason Sudeikis as Brady’s campaign manager, Dylan McDermott as Huggins’ campaign manager, Brian Cox as Huggins’ disapproving father, and Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow as the wealthy and powerful kingmaker Motch brothers (modeled on the Koch brothers), The Campaign has too many strong assets to seem this unfinished.
Yet it stumbles like a wobbly political candidate who enters a race without developing an overall strategy. There are scenes missing, exchanges that need to be trimmed or cut, moments that beg for retakes, and line readings that should be altered.
But, then, there are those boffo yocks.
Director Jay Roach established himself as a comedy force (the Austin Powers trilogy, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers), but has been concentrating on political television dramas of late (Recount, Game Change).
Now, his trip down the campaign trail gives him a chance to combine comedy and politics, but the finished product, despite the comedic high points, lacks the polish and cohesiveness of most of his previous efforts. With Roach always going for the joke rather than the reality of the situation, it’s a movie to giggle at rather than admire and appreciate.
Yet despite its excesses and misfires, it manages to lampoon the political process — with its hypocrisy, its superficiality, and its runaway corruption — in both a timely and timeless manner. How exaggerated is the screenplay by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell (previously titled “Dog Fight,” then “Rivals”)? Not very. In fact, the film mirrors contemporary politics to a scary degree.
There’s valuable sociopolitical commentary here, even if it is buried under an avalanche of gags.
But the script is also underdeveloped. It plays like the basis for a brief television episode or sketch that’s been stretched to feature length –- and only 85 minutes of running time at that — without being deepened or fleshed out.
Still, this it’s-about-time political romp contributes something useful -– a corrective of sorts, or a reminder -– to our national election-year dialogue.
So, in what feels like a vote for a candidate while having major reservations, we’ll say 2½ stars out of 4 for the cutthroat political farce, The Campaign.
I’m Bill Wine and I approved this rating.