“I am not beholden to my opponent’s questions, I am beholden to only one man, the greatest American that ever lived… Jesus Christ.”
Much like another comedy from earlier this summer, The Dictator, The Campaign seems to have been made solely for one late film scene, where a character sums up the entire issue with our modern political world in an on-the-nose tirade. I’m not saying that it’s not enjoyable and there aren’t a lot of funny things that happen over the course of its running time, but continuing to bury prescient political digs in sophomoric humor is only going to diminish your point when you finally get around to making it.
Four-time Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is running unopposed for a fifth term in his small district in southern North Carolina. That is until his campaign begins to fall victim to several political scandals, almost all of which involve his rampant infidelity. Seeing an opportunity to take control of this solidly Democratic district, the conservative billionaire Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) look to insert an opposition candidate into the race that they can easily control and manipulate, allowing them to introduce their nefarious and illegal business practices into the region.
Enter Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the black sheep son of a former Republican bigwig (Brian Cox) in whom the Motch Brothers see the perfect man to turn the political tide their way. Huggins is a sweet and innocent soul, ripe for molding into the ultimate political pit bull who will spout whatever pithy talking points they give him. The film then quickly devolves into a series of each candidate trying to one-up the other through political attack ads, debate distractions and various other tricks and games.
The film has some smart and incisive things to say about the current political atmosphere in this country and the way that elections are bought, if not outright, than through means that skirt issues of legality. It’s nothing that hasn’t been said before, it’s just all consolidated here into one storyline that spans roughly five months rather than the seemingly never-ending campaign cycle we currently live in. It’s a tad dumbed-down but it’s right on target for the average comedy seeking American heading to the multiplex to see it this weekend.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve gotten a general sense of what the film is and what it’s going for, but thanks to the film’s R-rating, it does have a handful of genuinely funny vulgar moments that couldn’t be revealed in the advertising. Unfortunately, the R-rating almost seems like an afterthought. It seems as though there were a handful of things they just didn’t want to cut and were saddled with the rating, rather than going full bore for the R like some comedies have lately. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, more of an observation.
Ferrell is funny as always, if you’re amused by what he does. I happen to be a fan and am willing to follow him down roads that many others may not, so if you’re not a fan, you’re not likely to be won over by his character and performance here. Galifianakis is the true star here, however, playing essentially a variation on his stand-up created “twin brother” Seth Galifianakis. Watching him run the gamut from wide-eyed innocent to cold-blooded politician and back again is a joy, and for someone who’s been a fan of his for years, it’s great to see him get a role where he can show his versatility, rather than just showing one facet of his personality like his roles in The Hangover and Due Date have.
The supporting cast is good, but largely underused. Jason Sudeikis, another guy I love in pretty much anything, isn’t given much to do here as Cam’s campaign manager, but he makes the most of it. Dylan McDermott also does well with his role as Marty’s Motch brother financed campaign manager, and Katherine LaNasa and Sarah Baker similarly make the most of their small roles as Cam & Marty’s respective wives. Lithgow, Aykroyd and Cox, all formidable screen presences, are almost entirely wasted in thoroughly unfunny glorified cameos.
Director Jay Roach has proven that he can do great political satire with his HBO films Recount and Game Change, but here, he appeared to be more comfortable returning to his role as director of safe, crowd-pleasing comedies like Meet the Parents and Austin Powers. I wish he had retained more of his bite, but I suppose that a dumb comedy with teeth is better than one without any teeth at all.
As I said earlier, if you’re not a fan of this sort of comedy, this isn’t going to win you over and make you see the light. If you are, however, you may find yourself getting caught up in the silliness of it all, and only later will you begin to wonder why the film couldn’t settle into a rhythm of either being a gross-out comedy or a sharp political satire, because in its current state, it just doesn’t belong in either camp.
GO Rating: 2.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]