Starring Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis. Written by Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell. Directed by Jay Roach. 14A. 82 min. Opens Aug. 10.
After spending the last decade playing George W. Bush in one form or another, Will Ferrell offers up an inadvertent impersonation of Dubya’s daddy in The Campaign. Farrell’s character, Cam Brady, a long-serving North Carolina congressman seeking reelection en route to the White House, may be an old-style Democrat (we see him smiling alongside Bill Clinton), but the way he finishes his sentences is mighty reminiscent of Bush Senior.
This personality overlap likely occurs because The Campaign, which is helmed by Game Change director Jay Roach, aims to be a bipartisan satire. Its tale of a congressional campaign that descends into dirty tricks means to skewer liberals and conservatives on the same keen blade, but most of the jokes couldn’t cut warm butter. Once you perceive that Brady is an arrogant blowhard in need of some comeuppance and his opponent, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), is a good-natured simpleton being manipulated by outside interests—embodied by nasty corporate titans, the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), who are the true villains of the film—there’s nothing to do but inventory the handful of inspired moments as the two lead actors bat lazily at each other.
These moments include a couple of funny bits involving Dylan McDermott as a ninja-like political operative, and a pointed scene in which Cam’s second-grade homework assignment is held up as evidence of his “socialist” agenda. But more often than not, The Campaign feels like a Funny or Die sketch stretched out well past the breaking point.