out of Five
Running time: 85
Entertaining comedy with a handful of big laughs and great performances from a strong comic cast, but the tone is a little uneven and the film is slightly hamstrung by the desire to keep its characters likeable.
What's it all about?
Directed by Jay Roach, The Campaign stars Will Ferrell as Cam Brady, a womanising, perfect-haired North Carolina congressman who takes winning for granted because he usually runs unopposed and has learned that shouting the words “America! Jesus! Freedom!” can get him out of pretty much anything. However, when he accidentally leaves a dirty phone message on a Christian family's answering machine, his shady billionaire backers the Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide they'd rather have someone who's easier to control and less prone to controversy, so they put their money behind bearded, cardigan-wearing oddball Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), son of their big business supporter Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox).
In order to ensure a Huggins victory, the Motch Brothers hire ruthless campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), who sets about transforming Marty, his wife Mitzi (Sarah Baker) and his two chubby sons into media-friendly vote-winners. And when Brady and his long-serving sidekick Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) realise they have actually have a fight on their hands, it isn't long before all manner of dirty tricks are being pulled on the campaign trail.
Ferrell and Galifianakis make a decent comic duo, sparking off each other to amusing effect throughout. There's also strong support from a superb comic cast that includes Sarah Baker (sweetly funny as Mitzi Huggins), Aykroyd and Lithgow (underused, but deliciously evil, with their plan to turn North Carolina into a Chinese sweatshop) and a surprisingly hilarious turn from Dylan McDermott, who, it has to be said, is not known for his comedy chops; there's also an inspired cameo from the star of one of this year's Oscar-winners, but to reveal that would be to give away one of the film's best gags.
To be fair, the script delivers several big laughs, the highlight of which (and if you haven't seen the trailer, look away now) involves Will Ferrell punching a baby in the face, in slow-motion. It also gets in a few decent digs about the evils of big business, though it says something about the stupidity and absurdity of actual real-life American political campaigns (Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair, anyone?) that the film's supposedly outrageous campaign stunts don't seem that far-fetched.
The main problem is that the tone is a little too uneven, veering from over-the-top craziness to schmaltzy, gentle, borderline-safe comedy and wanting to have it both ways; by the same token, it's also hamstrung by the desire to keep both characters likeable, instead of having them really go for the jugular.
The Campaign is an enjoyable, consistently amusing comedy, though you can't help wishing the script had a little more bite to it.