If politics makes strange bedfellows, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis take that particular expression literally in “The Campaign,” a raucous take on politics that, frankly, we need right about now.
Ferrell plays Cam Brady, an incumbent U.S. representative from North Carolina who is banking on again running unopposed. He has a wife and kids who look like they stepped out of a magazine ad (with personalities to match), is a womanizer, and speaks almost exclusively in soundbites and generalities.
Marty Huggins (Galifiankis) is the effeminate director of his small town’s tourism bureau, about as close to politics as he ever figures to get despite having a political heavyweight for a father (Brian Cox).
That is, until the Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide they want to run Brady out of Congress. The Motch Brothers are powerful lobbyists who hope to bring a Chinese sweatshop to North Carolina, complete with bad working conditions and low working wage, but need a candidate to play ball to allow this to happen.
They choose Marty, as dunderheaded as he is well-meaning and a seemingly perfect patsy on whom to hang their hopes, and the campaign is on.
Ferrell and Galifianakis are perfect foils for each other and pile on the comedy relentlessly for most of the film. They both seem to be missing key pieces of fundamental human intelligence necessary to live a normal, productive life, which, of course, makes them perfect politicans.
Dylan McDermott threatens to steal the film as Tim Wattley, a high-powered campaign manager that helps Marty’s campaign. He pops in from everywhere (a bit where he surprises Brady in the shower is particularly funny) and speaks in extremes, all with the goal of winning elections.
If you’ve paid attention to the TV spots, you’ve seen the gags involving the two politicians racing to kiss a baby that devolves into a brawl … involving the baby, or the spot with the candidates’ kids making inappropriate confessions. Those bits are as hilarious as most of the rest of the film. Many of the jokes I don’t want to give away, but there are a few really great ones.
One key piece to making “The Campaign” successful in an increasingly partisan world is that it blurs the line between the right and the left. Brady is a Democrat, but in one of his campaign billboards brandishes twin M-16s and runs on a platform of religious faith. Marty is hardly your stereotypical hardscrabble Tea Party Republican. If “The Campaign” is making any political statement at all, it’s that there is less difference between the parties than we’ve been led to believe, and both of them are being controlled by people with more money than any of us.
In the end, “The Campaign” is a vehicle for Galifianakis and Ferrell to bounce their comedy bits off of each other, but it manages to punch home a little something most of us know already and some of us would be well-served to remember: Politicians suck.