Jay Roach, director of the Austin Powers movies as well as the excellent HBO-backed political dramas Game Change and Recount, would seem the perfect guy to guide this ribald satire of a North Carolina congressional race wherein each candidate is flawed — Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a slick, four-term Democrat who makes multiple Anthony Weiner-style sexual gaffes; Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) is a naïve “effeminate racist” Republican with a terrible mustache. But, this being a Ferrell vehicle, subtlety is dismissed in favor of over-the-top set pieces in which nearly every joke is milked for all it’s worth.
That’s not to say Roach and screenwriters Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy don’t try to inject some commentary about the sorry state of our political campaigns. John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd play Koch brothers-style billionaires who, emboldened by Citizens United, draft Huggins out of obscurity to run as the Republican challenger, funding his campaign in return for favors that would help them build a Chinese-style sweatshop in North Carolina. And the absurdity of modern campaigns — in which advisors micromanage candidates’ every move and advertising is getting more and more corrosive and misleading — is mined to largely humorous effect. Yet, despite Galifianakis’ game efforts to humanize his Huggins, The Campaign ultimately has little interest in realism, preferring instead to ride Ferrell’s far broader comedic riffs. Opens wide Aug. 10. (R) Grade: C+