Film Reviews

Don’t. Turn. Around.

The Campaign puts the “pain” in our election process

As if we don’t already have enough of Will Ferrell and political campaigning, the bright and original minds of Hollywood apparently looked down from their offices and said to the people of America: “Here is more.”

The Campaign stars Will Ferrell as Cam Brady, a fourth-term South Carolina Congressman who comes across as an unsympathetic, sleazy overcooked version of Ferrell’s George W. impersonation–he’s basically plagiarizing himself. Zach Galifianakis is a naive fruitcake, plucked out of his tour-guiding small-town livelihood by the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow as a mockup of the Koch Brothers). He’s soon puppeted into running against Ferrell for a seat in Congress.

Maybe on paper it seemed like a good idea. Have the guys behind Anchorman, Talladega Nights, [], Eastbound & Down, the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and other acclaimed contributions get together for a satire of America’s campaign system. To achieve a successful satire, however, you have to make something funnier than the thing that you parody. And let’s be honest: our political machine often seems like it runs on bananas and lube. It’s funny on its own.

Just last week, Mitt Romney asked us to join him in welcoming to the podium “the next President of the United States, Paul Ryan!” before he went back to his seat, had somebody whisper his mistake to him, and then trotted back to the podium to say something along the lines of “Ha-ha, folks, you know what I mean.” Alas, there aren’t many funnier moments in the fictional Campaign than Paul Ryan’s actual face when that miniature train derailed.

The Campaign could probably have been more chuckle-worthy in the able hands of the Parks and Recreation team–watch anything from last season to see Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope run for office and there’s no better send-up of our political system. In fact, there are a lot of other funnier options if you want to laugh at our electoral follies. I submit Herman Cain. Or Tina Fey-lin on SNL, or yes, the original Will Ferrell impersonation of George W. Bush. Politics is a lukewarm pool that’s been peed in too many times, and The Campaign doesn’t make that big of a splash.

There are funny parts; Galifianakis’s creepy mustached man/baby voice still holds up, and I could watch him tiptoe-walk a pug for a very long time, which may or may not say something about me, but it’s funny. Galifianakis’ campaign director is played by that brooding jawline Dylan McDermott, who pulls off a few scene-steals.

But altogether, the plot devices are doomed, because in the end you can’t make up anything better than what has actually happened in the history of the state of South Carolina. Remember when their Governor disappeared for six days to have an affair in Argentina, but pretended that he was just hiking the Appalachian Trail the whole time? He actually returned to finish his term, and his successor, Nikki Haley, won from the help of a boost provided by the revelation that she had a few affairs herself.

Yet the writers choose to ignore these little comedic miracles, instead pulling from their own creative well. In the process, the only stupidity they reveal is their own. That’s why, when it comes to this campaign, it’s better to vote in absentia.