(Published in The Sunday Guardian, 2 September 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/elephants-in-a-china-shop)
Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott and others
Director: Jay Roach
Rating: 4 stars
When a film starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis begins with a quote by Ross Perot (“War has rules...mud wrestling has rules...politics has no rules”), you know the next couple of hours will be a mix of satire and spoof. When the filmmakers throw in two businessmen who run a Chinese sweatshop and fund campaigns in exchange for favourable legislation, two driven campaign managers who’re trying to rid their bosses of their Southern accents, spouses, children and animals, and garnish it with cuss words, you know the humour will be incredibly low-brow.
Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a four-time Congressman with a $900 haircut, trophy wife, church-going mistress, two children and several fetishes. Running his campaign is Mitch (Jason Sudeikis). Together, they know what voters in North Carolina want to hear: “America, Jesus, Freedom.” They also know Cam Brady will win unopposed – that’s how it’s always been.
That is, till the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), who appear to parody the Koch business family, decide to bring China to America to cut shipping costs. This will involve the passing of a ludicrous Bill that allows China to buy up a part of America, where Chinese women and children can be employed for 50 cents an hour.
When a puppet refuses to cooperate, they replace it – with Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), who cannot figure out doorknobs, desperately seeks his father’s approval, and has spawned a family of perverts. He has the services of a brilliant campaign manager – Dylan McDermott excels at playing, with utmost seriousness, a character who makes a habit of materialising out of nowhere, saying “I’m here to make you not suck”, and biting into an apple.
As the race for the Republican seat hots up, every political scandal that hit America over the past couple of decades – from tweeting explicit pictures to leaving dirty phone messages, from having sex in public restrooms to running underhanded campaigns – is lampooned.
The comedy alternates between slapstick and quirky, and this suits the cast just fine. If there’s no scope for a snake, baby or celebrity dog to enter the frame, everyone reels off expletives that would make a sailor blush. The wordplay is laid on a bit too thick every now and then, and the end has more twists than a Fred-and-Ginger routine, but there’s something likeable about a film with no pretensions to subtlety.
The Verdict: The Campaign plays out like a longer, less predictable episode of 30 Rock, with better actors.