Actual, factual American politics are so bizarre and disconnected from everyday life that it's hard to imagine any mere made-up movie topping the real thing for sheer harebrained farce.
But that's the challenge that “The Campaign” sets for itself, and despite some on-target satirical barbs and hilariously bombastic performances by Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, the film never really goes for the jugular.
The classic American political comedies like Preston Sturges' “The Great McGinty” and Barry Levinson's “Wag the Dog” scored uncomfortable laughs while exposing the seedy underbelly of the body politic with precise, vicious and breathtaking ruthlessness.
Director Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”) is a smart guy who has shown an acute instinct for the blood sport of politics in cable TV films such as “Recount” and “Game Change.” But here he mostly falls back into his rude, crude, chaotic “Austin Powers” mode and delivers an uneven comedy that misses its targets as often as it hits them.
The script by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell (who've teamed up on TV's “Eastbound & Down”) features Ferrell as smooth, smarmy U.S. Rep. Cam Brady, a do-nothing North Carolina Republican who expects to cruise to re-election in the upcoming campaign. But his sexual indiscretions have proved an embarrassment to conservative power brokers the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd in an amusing blush on the real-life Koch brothers).
So the devious Motchs put their clout behind a pliable political neophyte — Galifianakis' mincing, naive, idealistic tour guide Marty Huggins — to challenge Brady.
And they hire the black-suited, blackhearted image consultant Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to give the cornball Marty a slick makeover and to steer his cutthroat campaign.
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