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There is a lot of comedy talent behind Jay Roach’s The Campaign – stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, producer Adam McKay, etc. – but unfortunately in this case the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts. Pigheaded North Carolina congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) looks set to win the local election, especially as he’s running unopposed, until a couple of corrupt billionaire brothers convince village idiot Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) to run against him in an attempt to change policy – the end goal being to open up a massive industrial sweatshop right in North Carolina itself. Brady does not take kindly to the opposition, and a slapstick political firefight ensues.

Producer McKay is famously politically active, so with its skewering of the real life billionaire Koch brothers the film’s heart would seem to be in the right place, but unfortunately it all adds up to light fluff rather than scathing satire. Screenwriters Shawn Hartwell and Chris Henchy come straight from HBO/FX’s Eastbound and Down, another project produced by Ferrell and McKay, but while this pedigree is superficially evident in the dialogue and the film’s raunchier set-pieces, that show’s signature raw style and interest in character development is almost entirely lost in the transfer. Much of the blame seems to fall on director Jay Roach, whose glossy, too-sincere aesthetic and by-the-numbers storytelling is the antithesis of what makes something like Eastbound work, and in Roach’s hands the edgy quickly becomes the juvenile. Big laughs are far too few for the running time, and the stuff that does get laughs does so in spite of Roach’s stylistic choices, not because of them.

It would be unfair to say that the film is a total bust. Its decrying of big business’ influence over all levels of politics is noble, at least, and there are some funny moments,with the stars performing well even if they’re not given any real ample opportunity to shine. Ardent comedy fans will also recognise Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins as a revamped version of the Seth Galifianakis character from his earlier stand-up, and getting to see that character navigate the world for two hours straight is something of a coup in itself. Unfortunately that and one or two laughs is all that The Campaign really has to offer, and it remains an essentially mediocre effort that might have been salvaged with a couple of rewrites and a few different choices.

Words: Josh Hicks