You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Campaign

Before the 2012 presidential election has a chance to get really nasty, "The Campaign" vigorously swoops in to satirize how low things can go between a pair of rival Congressional candidates.

Cam Brady - Will Ferrell
Marty Huggins - Zach Galifianakis
Mitch - Jason Sudeikis
Tim Wattley - Dylan McDermott
Rose Brady - Katherine LaNasa
Mitzi Huggins - Sarah Baker
Glenn Motch - John Lithgow
Wade Motch - Dan Aykroyd
Raymond Huggins - Brian Cox

Before the 2012 presidential election has a chance to get really nasty, “The Campaign” vigorously swoops in to satirize how low things can go between a pair of rival congressional candidates. Will Ferrell plays sleazy incumbent Cam Brady, accustomed to running unopposed in his North Carolina district until Zach Galifianakis’ idealistic Marty Huggins enters the race. Skewering the system without ever going near the issues, this sportive political parody lacks the real-world punch of director Jay Roach’s made-for-HBO dramas “Game Change” and “Recount” but touches on enough of the elements that irk voters to cinch a B.O. majority.

Politics, like religion, tends to be one of those topics that drives audiences away from theaters, lest the beliefs held rile viewers. In “The Campaign,” the laugh-heavy script steers clear of partisan concerns in such a way that all parties can agree. Both candidates are clearly boobs, while the guys to watch out for are the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), a pair of powerful millionaires looking to rig the election so they can “insource” cheap Chinese labor to the district.

Popular on Variety

Normally, the Motches would have no trouble manipulating Brady, but a recent indiscretion has tarnished his reputation, forcing the two tycoons to find a new political puppet. Their choice, Marty Huggins, the black-sheep son of an antebellum-minded Southern landowner (Brian Cox), is eager to impress his dad and too clueless to question where his campaign contributions are coming from.

In an era when image has so much to do with a candidate’s odds, Huggins is in desperate need of a makeover. He talks with a lisp, dresses in crazy knitted sweaters Bill Cosby wouldn’t dare wear and oversees a family of butterballs too fat for your average photo op. After the thin-skinned Huggins leaves his first civility brunch in tears, the Motches deploy Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to whip him into shape.

Brady is ready for a fight, launching a series of political ads that insinuate Huggins may be a Muslim. Huggins retaliates by calling Brady’s own faith into question, forcing his opponent to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the next debate. In another country, the resulting blasphemy could get someone excommunicated; here, it aptly illustrates the character’s hypocrisy and electioneering absurdity.

The Campaign” opens with a quotation from Ross Perot: “War has rules, mud-wrestling has rules — politics has no rules.” Embracing the film’s R rating, Roach proceeds to illustrate just how flagrant things can get, and yet the humor works because everything connects back to the real world.

When Brady tweets a dirty photo of himself, he isn’t the first politician to do so. Sex scandals, drunk driving and embezzlement are now so commonplace among elected officials that auds won’t think twice about accepting these failings as standard character traits for someone like Brady, whose country-inflected, mock-stupid routine clearly borrows from the George W. Bush impression Ferrell perfected back in his “Saturday Night Live” days.

Galifianakis bases Huggins on a pre-existing character of his own, that of the actor’s socially awkward “twin brother,” Seth, who wears a fanny pack and freezes up on camera. Seth’s trademark insecurity nicely suits Huggins’ underdog complex, explaining why he would be willing to ignore his wife (Sarah Baker) for the public attention an election brings.

However nonthreatening Huggins may look, with Wattley’s help, he’s perfectly willing to play dirty. On both sides, the motto is “win at all costs.” But since neither Brady nor Huggins actually stands for anything, it serves to underscore the frustrating nature of the political process. The script by “Eastbound and Down” buddies Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell (who share story credit with Funny or Die co-founder Adam McKay) identifies a big, fat target in what disrespectable sorts will do to get elected, as in the scene where a race to see which of the two candidates will kiss a baby ends with the infant getting punched in the face. Comedy makes an excellent tool to criticize political insincerity, but it doesn’t lessen the fact that such tactics unfortunately work in convincing people to vote against their own best interests.

Roach, who also counts such lowbrow laffers as “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Fockers” on his resume, manages to keep things broad without sacrificing smarts. Where other helmers who have worked with these two leads tend to indulge absurd improvised riffs, Roach keeps things focused, resulting in an all-around tight and polished package.

The Campaign

Production: A Warner Bros. release and presentation of a Gary Sanchez/Everyman Pictures production. Produced by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Jay Roach, Zach Galifianakis. Executive producers, Amy Sayres, Jon Poll, Chris Henchy. Directed by Jay Roach. Screenplay, Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell; story, Adam McKay, Henchy, Harwell.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Jim Denault; editors, Craig Alpert, Jon Poll; music, Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Michael Corenblith; art director, Kelly Curley; set decorator, Susan Benjamin; costume designer, Daniel Orlandi; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat/SDDS), Ken McLaughlin; supervising sound editor, Michael O'Farrell; re-recording mixers, Jon Taylor, Dean Zupancic; stunt coordinators, G.A. Aguilar, Todd Bryant; visual effects supervisor, David D. Johnson; visual effects, Pacific Vision Prods.; associate producers, Josh King, Michelle Graham; assistant director, Brian F. Relyea; casting, Allison Jones. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Calif., Aug. 3, 2012. (In Traverse City Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: Cam Brady - Will Ferrell
Marty Huggins - Zach Galifianakis
Mitch - Jason Sudeikis
Tim Wattley - Dylan McDermott
Rose Brady - Katherine LaNasa
Mitzi Huggins - Sarah Baker
Glenn Motch - John Lithgow
Wade Motch - Dan Aykroyd
Raymond Huggins - Brian CoxWith: Karen Maruyama, Grant Goodman, Kya Haywood, Randall Cunningham, Madison Wolfe, Thomas Middleditch, Josh Lawson, Heather Lawless.

More Film

  • Li Shaohong

    Li Shaohong Revisits Macao and Chinese War Films

    Fifth generation director Li Shaohong’s career has spanned the entire length of the Chinese film market’s rise, from its days as a state-run industry churning out nothing but social realist films to its current stage of supporting ever more sophisticated and lucrative blockbusters and genre films. The current head of the China Film Directors’ Guild, [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Johnny Ma on the Dynamics of New Era Film Production in China

    Shanghai-born Canadian filmmaker Johnny Ma says he’d planned to make three films in China before moving on to other things, but the current state of the Chinese industry has “forced his hand” and convinced him to move on early after two. Currently living in Mexico, his next project is actually in TV: a pilot for [...]

  • 'Wonder Woman 1984' Trailer: Gal Gadot

    'Wonder Woman 1984' Trailer: Gal Gadot Returns With Pedro Pascal, Kristen Wiig

    “Wonder Woman 1984” dropped its first trailer on Sunday, with Gal Gadot returning as the titular Amazonian goddess. The film is set, of course, in the 1980s in America, decades after the first film’s events. Kristen Wiig is playing Wonder Woman’s infamous comic-book nemesis Cheetah, while Chris Pine is returning for the sequel. It’s unclear, [...]

  • Over the Sea

    Macao Film Review: 'Over the Sea'

    The beginning is a fairy tale, or a nursery rhyme. A woman nurses her squalling baby in a house by an orchard near the sea. Sunlight slants in through the open windows, the mother hums a lullaby, and then brings her son outside and places him in a cot suspended from the apple-laden branches of [...]

  • CCA Film Nominations

    Critics' Choice: 'The Irishman,' 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Lead Movie Nominations

    “The Irishman” has picked up the most film nominations for the 35th annual Critics’ Choice Awards. The Martin Scorsese gangster drama goes into the awards show with 14 noms, including best picture, director, acting ensemble as well as best actor (Robert De Niro) and supporting actor (Al Pacino and Joe Pesci), the Critics’ Choice Association [...]

  • Parasite

    'Parasite' Named Best Film of 2019 by L.A. Film Critics Association

    Hollywood’s hometown critics clearly aren’t afraid of subtitles. Members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. met Sunday to vote on the year’s best cinema accomplishments. South Korean thriller “Parasite” fared the best, taking not only best picture, but also the group’s director prize for Bong Joon Ho and supporting actor for Song Kang Ho. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content