Today's big-screen comedy stars tend to express a certain infantile lunacy. Yet it's astoundingly rare to see one of them make a film that is truly, scathingly topical, not just a comedy but a genuine satire of what's going on now. That's part of what makes “The Campaign” such a tasty, hilarious treat. It's a bombs-away send-up of the contemporary political process and damned if the movie isn't just funny but smart.
It’s every inch a Will Ferrell comedy. He plays a North Carolina congressman named Cam Brady with a beady-eyed, where's-my-teleprompter?-myopia that delectably walks the line between dimwitted and insane.
Yet “The Campaign” is also comparable in comic perception to movies like “Wag the Dog” or “Idiocracy.” It‘s all about how politics in America has become a money-drenched, media-mad hall of mirrors, not just corrupt but as prefab as an infomercial.
Ferrell's character is a smugly moronic right-wing incumbent. His challenger is Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis, a Southern wuss who wears awesomely ugly cardigans and sounds like Mister Rogers crossed with the Church Lady. Huggins is a joke but he’s being backed by the Motch brothers, a pair of conservative billionaires played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd as a thinly veiled riff on the Koch brothers.
In “The Campaign,” the candidates have no ideas and nothing much going on beneath their carefully-crafted images but the whole joke is that they’re idiots because they're puppets.
“The Campaign” features terrific parodies of the mud-slinging unreality of negative advertising in the Super PAC era. But perhaps the best thing about the movie is that it doesn't let those other players in the political process off the hook, namely the voters. The movie’s sly upshot is that American politics may now have achieved a level of fakery that's ridiculous but the most ridiculous thing about the fakery is that it works.