“The Campaign” (Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet)
“The Campaign” plays like a summation of Jay Roach's last 15 years as a comedy director, mashing together his broad big-screen comedies (“Meet the Parents,” the “Austin Powers” series) with his cheeky HBO political films (“Recount,” “Game Change”). All this makes “The Campaign” roughly as subtle as a SuperPAC ad, but Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis make up for the obviousness of the political points by being gleefully nasty in this story about candidates waging a bitter and bawdy war for a valuable North Carolina congressional seat.
Cam Brady (Ferrell) is the kind of incumbent who usually coasts to re-election with little or no competition. This near-certainty has made the blow-dried pretty boy listless, cocky and vulnerable to an incursion by the Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), billionaire power brokers who want to essentially sell Brady's district to a Chinese conglomerate. The Motches handpick pliable Republican scion Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) to be their toady and enlist a Mephistophelean campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) to turn a corny pug-loving man who adores his chubby family into a political animal. From that point, “The Campaign” raids a war chest full of big-and-sleazy laughs, with Ferrell channeling equal former Sen. John Edwards and Galifianakis playing a variation on mild alter-ego Seth Galifianakis from his stage act.
The sheer volume of dirty tricks mean “The Campaign” never leaves anything on the table in terms of laughs — both sides unload dueling phalanxes of sleaze on each other — but Roach seems averse to making any real points about party politics. When it comes to calling the parties out for their transgressions and excesses, Roach seems unusually timid: both “Recount” and “Game Change” drew their considerable power by going to the mat on tactics and truth. Sure, “The Campaign” is a different kind of movie, but because Roach is dealing with fictional bozos, there was potential for making points in between jokes, giving “The Campaign” a real satirical edge. It appears that, despite no shortage of good nastiness, fears of disenfranchising ideologues kept this “Campaign” in the “undecided” bloc.