Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a blow-dried, philandering North Carolina congressman who’s run unopposed in his district, a small town called Hammond, for decades. That is, until he commits a hare-brained faux pas, and suddenly the puppet masters behind the scenes smell blood.
Brandy-swilling billionaire industrialists the Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd, John Lithgow) want to sell Hammond to China (!), so they pluck an enthusiastic local idiot, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) from obscurity, hire a slick-willy campaign manager (Dylan McDermott, pure evil), and set out to ruin the incumbent.
US political campaigns are already low-brow, raunchy black comedies funded by sinister corporate goons, so The Campaign works hard to convince its audience that this is satire, not a typical Wednesday afternoon on CNN. After all, the Motch Brothers are clearly based on real-life US dark money supervillains the Koch Brothers, and Ferrell’s war-faced congressman is nothing if not Bush with Cheney’s brain.
So, to lighten the mood, there’s baby (and dog) punching, sex in a porta-potty, pre-teen profanity and a garish display of eye-scorching cardigan sweaters. Director Jay Roach ( Austin Powers, Meet The Parents ) trowels on his signature globs of light-hearted lampooning and cartoony, cringe-inducing gags, but even at its zaniest, The Campaign feels restrained.
Maybe it’s because Ferrell and Galifianakis are such obvious choices for the material, or perhaps it’s just political burnout, but the mayhem you might expect is nowhere to be found. Even at its most outrageous, Roach’s movie doesn’t seem any weirder or more worrisome than the actual presidential campaign playing out in the US right now.