After so many years of playing George W. Bush, Will Ferrell's Congressman Cam Brady feels almost too realistic. When asked how he'll create jobs in his small congressional district, he unleashes a flood of jibber-jabber about "a strong North Carolina" that means absolutely nothing but sounds convincing. It takes a second of staring at his tiny, vacant doll eyes before you realize that he's all impulse and no substance. Brady is running unopposed for his seat and preparing to approach his first full decade in office.
That's when Zach Galifianakis's Marty Huggins steps in. Huggins, with his lisp and tightly wound obsessive Christian purity, is encouraged to run by the Koch brothers—excuse me, the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, largely wasted)—a pair of insanely wealthy businessmen who collect conservative politicians the way kids used to collect baseball cards. There are some prime funny moments as the two men do battle with attack ads and desperate debates. Hell, Ferrell and Galifianakis even look funny when they're standing together, an overlong giant and a round little ball of earnest fuzz.
So The Campaign does a whole lot right. To start with, it doesn't hide behind any nonpartisan hogwash: The primary targets are teabagger Republican politicians and the corporate influences that love them. And Jay Roach, fresh off a victorious pair of political-minded HBO movies (Recount and, especially, Game Change) is the perfect director for the job. As Huggins and Brady attack each other in increasingly absurd ways, Roach's political ardor keeps things feeling vaguely credible. And if The Campaign eventually suffers from the traditional Ferrell-movie curse of a tacked-on, unearned emotional ending that saps all the comedic energy out of the third act, well, that can't be helped. America likes to believe the good guys win the political game in the end, even if we've done nothing to earn a happy ending. That's politics for you.