With Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, Sarah Baker. Written by Shawn Harwell, Chris Henchy. Directed by Jay Roach. Rated R (for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity). 85 minutes.
The past several years have had several R-rated comedies such as “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” that were moronic. One could feel IQ points melting away while watching them since the R rating not only meant there could be lots of jokes about sex and drugs, but that the humor would be at the level of a seventh grade locker room. This year’s Adam Sandler irrigation “That’s My Boy” was also an entry of that type.
Instead, this summer we seem to be getting films that mix some wit with the raunch. “Ted” is one of the big hits of the season, with its odd tale of a man and his foul-mouthed teddy bear. Now comes THE CAMPAIGN, and if you’re already fed up with just how stupid real life politics has become, this movie is the antidote. It’s a no-holds-barred send up of a North Carolina Congressional race that is simultaneously smart and lowbrow.
Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is the incumbent Democratic member of Congress who is considered a possible Vice Presidential pick and who is running unopposed for re-election. However, he recently made the mistake of leaving a sexy message to his mistress on the answering machine of a total stranger. The resulting scandal has left him weak. He’s been bankrolled by the Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), two plutocrats who care less about politics than about owning a politician. They decide to replace him with Marty Huggins (Zack Galifianakis) who enters the race as a Republican.
The party labels are a matter of convenience as far as the movie is concerned, telling us little about where the two candidates stand. Marty is a sweet-natured guy who finds his life being changed by his new barracuda-like campaign manager (Dylan McDermott). As the campaign progresses, the two candidates do everything they can to destroy the opposition, and in increasingly absurd ways. At one point Cam decides he needs to have sex with Marty’s wife (Sarah Baker) after Marty has arranged for Cam to be picked up for drunk driving. Even more absurd, Cam thinks this would make a great TV ad.
In short, it’s cartoonish but in ways that makes us notice that it’s a funhouse mirror being held up to the real world of politics. Ferrell and Galifianakis are a riot as the combative pols. Indeed, Galifianakis, usually an annoying presence in movies, is downright likeable. And as the Motch Brothers, Lithgow and Aykroyd seem to be channeling Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy from “Trading Places” (in which a much younger Aykroyd starred opposite Eddie Murphy). The supporting cast includes Brian Cox as Marty’s hardnosed father, Jason Sudeikis as Cam’s beleaguered campaign manager, and Sarah Baker as Marty’s put-upon wife. Baker, who has worked mostly in TV, may be the discovery of the movie, deftly playing the increasingly absurd situations.
In a presidential election year where supposedly serious people are claiming Barack Obama isn’t really an American or that Mitt Romney doesn’t pay taxes, the political brawling in “The Campaign” doesn’t seem all that farfetched. It’s true that, unlike in the movie, none of the real life candidates has punched a baby yet, but give them time. It’s a long way to November.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.