The Campaign has many funny moments, but it’s cheap and utterly without courage. It’s an exercise in fatuous Leftist politics masquerading as smart satire. If you like Bill Maher and MSNBC you’ll enjoy this movie, and it comes as no surprise that cameos made by real life media figures in The Campaign are exclusively Liberal media hacks like Maher and Chris Matthews. In fact, I think the entire MSNBC prime time lineup appears in this movie.
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis and Jason Sudeikis
The Campaign is a schoolyard bully picking on the weak kid because he can, but when the bully goes home he’s still empty while the picked upon has gone on to do something meaningful. In this case, the bullied are, collectively, southern Christians whom Hollywood liberals and other assorted elitists believe to be the most ridiculous people on earth. The Campaign is What’s the Matter with Kansas? placed on celluloid.
The movie stars Will Ferrell, who, so it seems, didn’t get his fill portraying George W. Bush as a retrograde moron in his one man show You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush. In The Campaign, Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a fictional North Carolina Congressman who only needs to shout “Jesus!” in campaign speeches to sucker simplistic hicks into voting for him. Even though he’s been caught in an affair, he will run unopposed for re-election—that is until Zach Galifianakis is coaxed into challenging him.
Galifianakis plays Marty Huggins who, even though he is married with children, behaves gayer than a pride parade (it’s unclear why the character is actually portrayed this way). Regardless, Huggins is the estranged son of a throwback, southern political boss (Brian Cox) who is in league with the Motch Brothers. The Motch Brothers (get it, the Koch Brothers) are played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow who are the source of all evil in the world, at least according to fevered progressive imaginations. The Motch Brothers want Huggins to win the Congressional seat to be able to use him to line their own pockets.
It’s pointless to describe the plot further because this movie is not an exercise in storytelling. It’s an attempt to flip the bird at the Tea Party in the guise of a ribald, farce about a Congressional campaign.
The thing about a Saturday Night Live skit is that, from beginning to end, you know it’s a parody and nothing more. Scour the net and you’ll find a million movie reviews which make the point (I’ve done it as well) that a film will fail because it feels like a SNL skit drawn out for an hour and a half. The Campaign not only suffers from this shortcoming, but it also doesn’t realize how intellectually limited it is. I’m sure the producers are congratulating themselves about their moral superiority, but while The Campaign goes to great lengths to skewer rubes it conspicuously avoids addressing North Carolina’s very large African-American demographic.
The percentage of African-Americans living in North Carolina is almost double the national percentage, and no political campaign in the State would fail to address this population’s wants and needs. Yet this movie pushes African-Americans to the background, literally. There is one five-second scene where Ferrell’s character can be seen dancing and singing in the choir of a Black church. It’s a cynical ploy to garner votes, but this cut is brief and it goes right from there to a White church where snake worship is the order of the day. This scene, of course, gets extended play –and is quite funny—but the message is clear: we’re going to stick to dumping on the “bitter clingers” because it’s the easy way out. African-American faces in The Campaign are few and far between, which is a massive hypocrisy. Here is a film that is applauding itself for seizing high moral ground, but it either cynically or unwittingly ignores the importance of African-Americans in North Carolina. But including Blacks wouldn’t fit the agenda so it goes almost completely unaddressed.
Ferrell took on NASCAR culture in Talledega Nights with great success. That movie was funny in the way Caddyshack was funny because it roasted country club life, or the way Stripes was a riot because it pilloried Army life. But those movies knew their limits. The Campaign blunders past parody and into satire, and it’s in the latter category where it falls flat and feels only like playground name-calling.
I hazard to predict –because prognostications about what films will and will not do well are impossible to make (after all, someone thought Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar, and Waterworld would be box office smashes) —that The Campaign will flop, but when you are insulting a large swathe of the country’s population you aren’t setting yourself up for a big hit. Maybe the producers don’t care or maybe they think their targets are too dumb to get the joke. Or maybe they are content to pat themselves on the back and laugh along with faculty lounges and those on the Upper West Side, but the laughter will be fleeting and certainly rings hollow.