It would almost be impossible for a film with Will Ferrell and Zach Galiafanakis to not be funny—I mean, they’d have to work really hard at it. And yes, I laughed fitfully throughout The Campaign.
But the film struck me as a bare minimum effort by all parties involved.
For starters, Ferrell and Galiafanakis are playing. . .the exact same characters they always play.
Ferrell is an overconfident, slightly dim, patriotic-platitude-spewing good ol’ boy—in this case a North Carolina congressman named Cam Brady modeled on both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Zach Galiafanakis plays a world-class oddball—a man with a funny voice, a funny walk, a funny mustache, and a funny way about him, who—wait for it—owns a pair of pugs. (But he had a French bulldog in Due Date, not a pug, you might protest! Totally different breed of small, snorting dog.)
Galiafanakis’s Marty has been recruited by a pair of corrupt billionaire brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) who want to buy the election. Their names? Yes, the Motch brothers.
That is basically the level of subtlety one can expect from this film. The political jokes, in fact, go so far over the top they don’t even ring true. The swipes at political ads are particularly silly. First Marty runs an ad where he gets Cam’s son to call him “Daddy”. Then Cam responds by running an ad where he boffs Marty’s wife.
If you’re going to set up a film as a political satire, you should at least manage to say some slyly subversive and smart things about our political system. Going after easy targets like the Koch brothers, negative ads, facile patriotism, Bible-thumping (in one admittedly hilarious scene Marty challenges Cam to recite the Lord’s prayer) is just lazy.
And both Ferrell and Galiafanakis have been funner—much funnier. The nays have it.