As earnest, clean-living Carolina Senator Cam Brady, Will Ferrell is shown in a variety of photo ops with farmers, teachers and similarly noble professions, all of which he calls the backbone of the nation.
But his love for America and the dignity of its hardworking citizens doesn’t stop there. Without a hint of irony nor a hair out of place he stands in front of a ride at a streetside carnival and tells the accumulated foreign, low-wage staff ‘Filipino Tilt-a-Whirl operators are this nation’s backbone.’
That’s the whole sell of the movie right there – what happens when people who don’t deserve to be in politics are given the stage and battle it out for supremacy.
With his extra-marital affair and bad habits forgiven by his equally ambitious wife, Cam is on the fast track to success, having run unopposed for his Senatorial seat for years. But two rich industrialist brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) want to manipulate the political landscape for their own ends, and they need a candidate to take Cam’s position.
Their answer is the lovable but buffoonish family man Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), who joins the race with gusto and has to learn all the dirty tricks of an election campaign on the fly as his far more seasoned opponent brings his considerable arsenal to bear.
But Brady’s not so slick himself, and after a series of politically disastrous missteps (his wife leaves him as he faces defeat, he accidentally punches a baby), the fight is neck and neck.
”The Campaign” approaches the subject with the trappings of very broad comedy. Several of the lines and set pieces, like Cam dancing with rattlesnakes with fundamentalists (and getting bitten), are riotously funny and will have your sides splitting. But at the same time it’s a far more acerbic comment on the state of politics in America today with all the showmanship, phony sincerity and behind the scenes hatred the institution can muster.
It’s also the perfect vehicle for the talents of director Jay Roach, who’s made solid political drama (”Game Change”, ”Recount”) as comfortably as silly comedy (The ”Austin Powers” movies). ”The Campaign” is the crossroads between the two, and with Ferrell and Galifianakis in front of his camera, ”The Campaign” will be remembered as the film that bought the strands of his career together.