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By Francis Blagburn
As the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney trudges on, the world’s eyes once again turn to the adversarial boxing match of an American election. Comedians everywhere are cashing in on the action; Twitter is alight with comics such as Rob Delaney firing out irony infused, micro-sized satire, and this week Jon Stewart is preparing to go head to head with Bill O’Reilly in a televised debate.
It makes sense, then, that Hollywood too would sit up and listen. Forget 140 characters, there’s more than enough fodder in an election campaign to fill 85 minutes, right?
Yes. Despite this, however, The Campaign seems insistent on delivering arbitrary, loosely satirical comedy that succeeds in generating some decent laugh-out-loud moments, but has little more to offer.
Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady: all-American idiot and unscrupulous standing incumbent. Together with his power-hungry wife Rose (Katherine LaNasa), he hopes to breeze into another term in congress by mindlessly repeating the credo ‘America, Jesus, Freedom’ and smiling for the cameras.
His unimpeded path to glory is halted when Brady misdials the phone number of his mistress, leaving a sexually explicit answer-phone message on the machine of an unsuspecting Christian family. As a scene it makes for fairly elemental shock humour, raising little more than a titter from a sparse audience.
When Brady’s gaffe hits the media, big-money business moguls the Motch brothers decide his career is finished, and reason that in order to realise their corrupt plans of bringing Chinese labour to small-town America, they need to choose a different airheaded candidate to dupe the hoi polloi.
Cue Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis). With a vocal delivery lifted straight from Seth MacFarlane’s back-catalogue, Huggins is the effeminate antithesis of the typical American politician; he is a well-meaning Derek Zoolander type with the macho Father to match.
It’s clear at Huggins’ first appearance as candidate that he’s not cut out for the role. At a ‘Civility Brunch’ Huggins attempts his first speech, reeling off a pointless anecdote about his pugs, which serves to demonstrate his naivety, and raises a laugh or two in doing so. The ensuing 40 minutes see him transformed by campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) into a suit-wearing, media-savvy politician, and he embarks on a tit-for-tat war against Brady which gets personal.
The whole thing begins to feel laboured around the half-way mark, and the cardboard cut-out characters don’t really have enough substance to carry the show. The ending is obvious from the beginning, the beginning is as obvious as the ending and the middle is structured in the easiest way possible, resulting in a finished product that feels more like a meandering series of half-decent sketches than an intriguing story – come the closing credits one can’t help but feel distinctly underwhelmed.
In terms of the film’s take on American politics as a whole, it is well meaning and delivered with gusto, but shallow as a paddling pool. Profit driven fat cats are in control and politics must be returned to the people. Spin and self-image mask the shady realities of a political game where million dollar sponsorship deals are negotiated under-the-radar in plush restaurants.
So far, so good, but roughly the same point was made in the Muppets’ movie. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before. The Campaign is an underdog comedy in the mould of Dodgeball or Blades of Glory that happens to be about politics. It is just about kept afloat by sight-gags engineered by director Jay Roach and Will Ferrell’s penchant for caricature, but overall it feels like one big missed opportunity.