PLOT: In a small Southern district, an incumbent politician suddenly faces a nerdy new challenger.
BOTTOM LINE: A broad, laugh-out-loud farce with Ferrell and Galifianakis deep in their comfort zones as a blow-dried blowhard and a wimpy weirdo.
CAST: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis
Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis play candidates who'll stoop to anything for a congressional seat in "The Campaign," but don't go expecting any partisan point-scoring. This big, broad, laugh-out-loud farce isn't in the business of deep swipes or sharp insights. Its main message is that politics pretty much makes fun of itself.
Its two stars are cast to type, but effectively so: Ferrell is Cam Brady, a blow-dried blowhard in North Carolina's 14th District suddenly threatened by Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a twerpy man-child from the tourism bureau. The race starts pleasantly enough with a "civility brunch," but things get ugly fast: Cam tars Marty's Chinese pugs as Communist, Marty challenges Cam to recite the Lord's Prayer ("Aloe Vera be thy name?") and soon the candidates are sacrificing their dignity, their values and their family members to score a point or two in the polls.
This is familiar territory, but "The Campaign" scores its biggest laughs when its stars merely act like real politicians. Cam has George W. Bush's grasp of language ("Schools is this nation's backbone") but Anthony Weiner's Twitter habits; Marty has Michael Dukakis' wimpy persona but Dick Cheney's hunting skills. (Jason Sudeikis and Dylan McDermott play their manipulative campaign managers.) Wolf Blitzer, Piers Morgan and Chris Matthews report on the absurdity with admirably straight faces, probably because they remember the real headlines so well.
Written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell with Adam McKay, "The Campaign" is sharpest when it makes fun of voters, who predictably fall for the lousiest logic and emptiest rhetoric. Marty's trump card is "Rainbowland," a suspiciously socialist parable about sharing written by Cam -- when he was 8. "I don't want to live in Rainbowland!" screams a town-hall attendee. Real elections have been lost over less.
PLAYING AT Area theaters