Improvised shtick on the campaign trail
America may, indeed, be in need of a laugh-out-loud comedy about the sorry state of contemporary politics: a polarized Congress, scandal-struck candidates, moneyed titans paying for political ads, the PACs, the platitudes, the partisan name-calling.
The Campaign, with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as polarized, scandal-struck, PAC-backed, platitude-spewing partisan name-callers vying for a congressional seat in North Carolina's 14th District is, alas, not that comedy.
Relying on improv-y riffing and watch-them-coming-from-down-the-block-and-around-the-corner sight gags, The Campaign is intermittently amusing, but more often just interminable. Jay Roach, who directed the Austin Powers spy spoofs and more recently a pair of HBO films based on real-world political dramas - Recount, about the 2000 Gore-Bush cliff-hanger (or chad-hanger), and Game Change, about John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as running mate - lets his stars go into default-mode shtick.
Ferrell, who had a field day parodying the 43d president on Saturday Night Live and then in his one-man Broadway show, tweaks the character, giving George W. Bush's loping speech patterns less of a twang, and giving him a John Edwards hairdo. Ferrell is Cam Brady, the Democratic incumbent who preaches faith and family values and then leaves X-rated messages on the answering machine of the woman he's engaged with, extramaritally speaking.
Galifianakis resurrects his Seth Galifianakis persona - a fey, fumbling fellow with a wardrobe of high-waisted jeans who exists in a state of perpetual credulousness. His name here isn't Seth, though - it's Marty Huggins. He runs the tourist office in little Hammond, N.C. He is the dim-witted son of a wealthy power broker (Brian Cox). And he is handpicked by a pair of cynical corporate sleazes (Dan Aykroyd, John Lithgow) to run against Brady, who is suddenly deemed beatable (thanks to that answering-machine tape).
The fat cats have a plan to bring low-paid Chinese workers into the region, thereby exploiting the "Made in America" angle and increasing profits by eliminating shipping costs. They call it in-sourcing, and with Marty in D.C., they could pull it off.
Ferrell, who looks cross-eyed with befuddlement even when he's staring straight ahead, blithely stumbles from one gaffe to the next. A couple of the bits are even funny: After the slo-mo replays on the local news showing Cam Brady slugging a baby in the kisser, he hauls off and punches another adorable little creature. Since it's the funniest joke in The Campaign, I'll refrain from disclosing who his target is.
Karen Maruyama ekes out a few laughs as a domestic who talks like Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind, even though she's Asian American, not black. And Katherine LaNasa and Sarah Baker are the respective Brady and Huggins spouses, rightly seeing their husbands for the idiots they are, but going along with the sound bites and stump speeches anyway.
Power corrupts. And moronic power corrupts moronically.