On the long list of political comedies starring comedians, the new, Jay Roach-directed comedy The Campaign ranks somewhere squarely in the middle. It has some good jokes. It has things it wants to say about the current state of politics and the sad state of the general political discourse. It features two decent comic performances from Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, who are effective despite working exactly in their comfort zone. But the movie is mess of tones and ideas, softening more often than it ought to and backing off just when it should be digging in. It's hard to do satire in which the main players are likable, but that doesn't stop The Campaign from trying.
Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, longtime Democratic congressman for the 14th district in North Carolina. Though he's prone to slick political rhetoric and sleeping around, Brady continues to be re-elected mostly on the basis that he's running unopposed. Enter the Moch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), billionaires looking to buy some votes so that they can open a legal sweatshop in the U.S. (to save on shipping costs, of course). The Mochs decide to sponsor their own candidate: Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), the town's tourism director and resident oddball. After hiring a campaign manager (a very funny Dylan McDermott) to reshape Marty into what a political candidate "should" look like, the two enter into an increasingly contentious -- and increasingly ridiculous -- political race that involves everything from hunting accidents to baby punching.
With the caliber of talent present in The Campaign, the movie should be better than it is. Ferrell and Galifianakis make an interesting pair, as both guys tend to revel in the absurdity of their comic creations while still finding a way to ground them in reality. For some reason, though, their scenes together never click; it feels like they're acting in two different movies. What really sinks The Campaign, though, is that it proves unwilling to go all the way in its satire of our contemporary political process. Every time it starts to go down a road that's dark or subversive, it backs down in the interest of sending everyone out of the theater feeling good. A comedy about politics shouldn't do that -- especially in the year 2012.
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