When Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby got the green light it was, legend has it, on the back of a six word premise: Will Ferrell is a NASCAR driver, his latest effort The Campaign could similarly be summarised as Will Ferrell is a politician. Starring as congressman Cam Brady, Ferrell brings his familiar shtick to the frat pack’s first take on satire. Opposite him on screen and the political podium is Zach Galifianakis as Marty Huggins – a local resident who becomes a surprise contestant to Brady’s usually uncontested seat.
Ferrell’s Brady is right out of his back catalogue blueprint, a man-child whose ineptitude doesn’t get in the way of his position of power with a traceable line dating back to Ron Burgundy through Ricky Bobby and now, with the added political hand gestures and posturing that he picked up from his George W. Bush impersonations, to this latest incarnation of self-deluded male. As with those previous films all is well within the self-delusion until the arrival of a rival threatens his alpha male status. This threat comes in the unlikely package of Huggins, a camp, well meaning family man who runs tours of his home town – one he loves and one under threat of being humiliated by the pr nightmares of Brady’s antics.
The two protagonists play well against each other and while the likeable, naïve stylings of Huggins’ fish out of water story amuse it is the brash, shouty Ferrell who draws the most guffaws. They are never far from a recognisable campaign trail; from the shadowy figures lurking behind the candidate that re-arrange entire lives to make it photo-friendly to the American public to the eagerness to appease all voters with man-of-the-people clichés, including a baby kissing disaster which grabs the loudest laughs.
However, as a successful satire it’s hardly Jon Stewart, you won’t find the in-house nuances or biting realness of In the Loop here where the style of satire is broad and the caricature recognisable. When Ferrell’s Brady opens the film regurgitating “(insert industry here) is the backbone of America” there’s a knowing nod to politician’s lack of sincerity and the “freedom, Jesus, America” rhetoric is a recognisable feature of Republican electioneering. The core of the films baiting is focussed on the murky goings on away from the podium and television cameras, the power that really dictates the political power – big business. John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd play the Motch brothers whose ‘insourcing’ idea to bring in cheap Chinese labour to the town district is in need of a political backer/puppet. The idea that US politics can be as easily bought and sold is sadly all too believable even if the Motch’s come across like the gambling Duke brothers in Trading Places.
The accuracy or power of the attempted satire is of course a moot point when it comes to The Campaign, there will be few who rush to the cinema in the hope of seeing Ferrell and Galifianakis dissect the American political system and bring it to its knees. Rather there will be those who will rush to see anything either star features in so long as it promises some comedy and in that respect they will only be slightly disappointed with the re-hashing of characters on show but will surely forgive in time for the return of that character’s blueprint Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2. What comes next is anyone’s guess, who knows it could well read ‘Will Ferrell is a shy, retiring mime artist’…that however, would be a far more difficult sell.