By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Proposed: That during an election season that has provided more jaw-dropping hilarity than most movie comedies, it may finally be impossible to make a good spoof of politics.
Supporting argument: “The Campaign,” an otherwise so-so exercise that falls far short of the absurdities of the real presidential campaign that has been unfolding for the last year.
How can this movie possibly compete with the cascade of craziness that comes squawking out of cable news every day?
The race in question takes place in a North Carolina congressional district. The longtime incumbent, Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), looks forward to an unopposed re-election, until a series of gaffes, including a lewd telephone message left at the home of his mistress, gets in the way.
A pair of billionaire brothers (Dan Aykroyd, John Lithgow) decide to throw their money behind a nonentity, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), who works at the local tourism board and has long been a source of disappointment to his father (Brian Cox), a retired politico.
Galifianakis creates the movie’s main source of value, in his portrait of a sweet-natured nitwit who would rather be with his wife and sons than engaging in the cutthroat world of politics. His appalling wardrobe, his Saddam Hussein-style mustache, and his pet pug dogs mark him as the world’s worst candidate.
The big-money brothers are thinly veiled (all right, not veiled at all) versions of the Koch brothers, the billionaires who helped organize the tea party movement and are currently pouring millions into the November campaign.
Anybody that famous and influential is a legit target of satire, of course, but the problem in “The Campaign” is how on-the-nose everything is. When the movie has to explain how the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case opened the door to vast amounts of money entering the political arena, it might be a useful history lesson, but it tends to kill the jokes.
However, director Jay Roach (he did the “Austin Powers” movies) and his stars are not exactly strangers to making the funny.
And there are some choice moments here, including a variety of dinner-table conversations and at least one example of Cam Brady punching a baby.
Yes, a lot of the humor is “edgy” like that. It’s R-rated, so expect a lot of improvisations about body parts. The makeover of Marty Huggins is amusing, in the spirit of George W. Bush acquiring his Crawford, Texas ranch: The experts toss out Marty’s actual belongings in favor of more manly images, including the pug dogs — they get replaced by Everyman-style retrievers.
Well, at least Marty doesn’t make the dogs ride on top of the car. See what I mean? Truth is weirder than fiction, and all that.
“The Campaign” (2½ stars)
This satire of the political process is a so-so comedy that lets opposing candidates Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis loose to improvise. They score some laughs, but the movie falls short in the way its absurdities can’t match the hilarity of real modern-day politicking.
Rated: R for language, nudity, subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.