The Campaign – 2 stars

Two dumb Southerners vie for a North Carolina congressional district, one a Democrat (Will Ferrell), a randy Bill Clinton wannabe, and one a Republican (Zach Galifinakis), who is essentially Ned Flanders. But they are of the same bent, using appeals to God, country, morality, patriotism and the like to sway the voters, who, being Southern, are borderline mentally retarded.  After an unscrupulous campaign that features baby punching, grudge wife screwing and near-maiming, we are all served a lesson in civics.

There are a few very funny gags — Ferrell accidentally leaves a message for his mistress on a phone answering machine while an unsuspecting family is having dinner; Galifinakis uses a book (“Rainbowland”) Ferrell wrote in the second grade to suggest Ferrell is a socialist because, in Rainbowland, everything is free; the baby punching; and Ferrell’s tortured rendition of The Lord’s Prayer at a debate.  But much of it is derivative, either of earlier Ferrell vehicles or the fim itself.  Worse, Ferrell so over-relies on his own brand of wild man antics that you can feel the air release from the movie.  Quite something when it clocks in at a mere 90 minutes or so.  When Ferrell engages in the gibberish-spouting freakout scene, I’m reminded of the story about the late Chris Farley, who once shoved a pool cue up his own ass to get yucks. Ingenuity or desperation? You make the call.

To compensate, we get some political instruction, presumably from producer Adam McKay, who must actually believe that vehicles created for the delivery of fart jokes will also suffice for ideological lessons (he did the same thing in the seminal Ferrell pic The Other Guys, which ended with a primer on the evils of TARP).  In this movie, the Citizens United Supreme Court case is actually cited, and stand ins for the Koch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd reprise the roles of Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche from Trading Places) are wasted when provided with no funny material. There’s also much that is not funny, including a gag where an Asian housekeeper is made to talk black . . . again and again.

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