If politics wasn’t so soberingly serious and potentially life-altering by its machinations, it would be purely a laughing matter. Political races are inherent tragicomic enterprises on their own, not to mention steady suppliers of ripe material and even career advancement for those in the comedy business. On the latter count, Will Ferrell owes a debt of gratitude to the inspiration and target that was (and is) George Dubya Bush, Ferrell’s doofus-y fun impersonation of whom is a comedy classic and a central feature of the uneven but yuks-worthy-enough political satire The Campaign.
Although his character here is an idiot savant and sex-crazed congressmember from North Carolina, we know from the squinty-eyed determination and brain-challenged malapropisms of Ferrell’s portrayal that Bush is in the house. Formerly unchallenged in his position, Ferrell’s character finds himself at odds with the suspicious business interest of the evil factory-meisters the Motch brothers (hmm, rings a bell), who have inserted a malleable stooge (Zach Galifianakis) into the race to clear away the hurdles to their nefarious business.
As the mud gets slung and the fighting gets nasty, Galifianakis’s character, soaked in naïveté and essential good-heartedness, is forced to discover the dastardly Machiavellian office-seeker within. Along the way, the farcical high points include a Lord’s Prayer recitation gone gonzo, baby-kissing and dog-socking mishaps, scenes showcasing the perils of brutal honesty, along with some deep-dish cynicism served up by Rip Torn (one of his specialties). But the nasty-fun part of the movie gets interrupted by the inevitable cozy-fying of the dark side, the old spin-doctoring impulse that kicks in even at the rule-breaking bully pulpit of outrageous satire.
In Hollywood political satires — such as this occasionally funny but ultimately weak-willed model — by the power vested in simpleton morality and lack of dramatic courage, things work out tidily. Good does out, and corrupt forces are punished. Meanwhile, out here in the real world, the fight is on, and lives hang in the balance. May the best mudslinger win.