The demise of the Will Ferrell-era cannot come soon enough.
Other than an overwrought and hysterical attack on the Koch Brothers, the politics of “The Campaign” are surprisingly even-handed. The real problem is the non-stop crudeness, a total lack of warmth, and this utterly bizarre trend where so much of comedy today now comes from its creators’ smug sense of superiority over the rest of us.
Set in my home state of North Carolina, Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a four-term Democrat Congressman who thinks he’s cruising to reelection … again. Obviously molded after North Carolina’s own John Edwards, Brady is nothing more than a shallow sleaze who cheats on his wife but remains faithful to his hair. A scandal involving a disgusting monologue Brady accidentally leaves on a goofy Christian family’s answering machine suddenly makes him vulnerable to a challenge.
Buried in money and eager to exploit American workers like they do the Chinese, the Motch Brothers (a wasted Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow) hatch a scheme to buy Brady’s seat through Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), a sweet, innocent, not-very-bright conservative Christian and family man. Marty’s also the white sheep of a racist Republican Dynasty, which makes the Motch Brothers confident they can win on Marty’s name recognition and own him forever after.
Like everything Ferrell touches, not only are the non-sequitur bursts of crudity unrelenting and off-putting, but “The Campaign” has absolutely no heart. That’s not to say the characters don’t have “heartfelt moments.” But even during those, the filmmakers never give the ironic distance a rest. The joke is always on us, which is another part of the problem.
Certainly, the John Hughes and Adam Sandler type of the comedy world mine humor from the tics and foibles of suburbanites, southerners, and everyday folks. But thanks to a giant beating heart and the exact right touch, you never feel as though you’re being held up for ridicule. We let Hughes and Sandler tweak us because the ribbing always comes from a place of affection.
“The Campaign” hates us and so do its creators and stars. It’s one thing to mock the powerful Koch Brothers or politicians, but the contempt this new era of comedy has for everyday people borders on rage. Everyday Christians, conservatives, southerners, and citizens constantly take it in the neck. “The Campaign” actually portrays the multitudes in the background as bigger freaks than the main characters.
This of course is a byproduct of Hollywood’s increasing cultural distance from the rest of America, which has bred a disdain and sense of superiority that’s started to bleed into everything comedic — from Will Ferrell to Letterman to Jon Stewart.
The sad thing, though, is that this comedic style apparently appeals to and breeds this smugness into enough of us to become box office hits.
The only thing funny about “The Campaign” is an irony that escapes its creators. This film, which is really a 90-minute political advertisement, was funded to the tune of $56 million by a multi-national corporation called Time Warner and crafted by multi-millionaires named Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Jay Roach.
And yet its blatant message is to keep corporate money and millionaires away from influencing our politics.
Yep, the joke really is on us. Har har.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC