[Review] – The Campaign

28 Aug

Title: The Campaign
Year: 2012
Director: Jay Roach
Writers: Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, based on a story by Mr. Henchy, Mr. Harwell and Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox
MPAA Rating: R, crude sexual content, language and brief nudity
Runtime: 85 min
IMDb Rating: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Metacritic: 49

Jay Roach is a director who has dabbled in two very different kinds of films along his career. On the one hand, the guy’s been responsible for some pretty successful comedies, most of them R-rated affairs, that include all three Austin Powers movies. Yet on the other hand, the guy’s made two films for HBO that are dramas about political elections, 2008’s Recount, about the 2000 Presidential election, which won him an Emmy for his direction, and this year’s Game Change, about the 2008 Presidential election, which sees him as the front-runner to take that Emmy again once the awards take place next month.

Now Mr. Roach has seemingly found a way to marry those two genres of films he likes so much, delivering The Campaign, an R-rated comedy centered around  the election for Congressman of North Carolina’s 14th district. Obviously timing couldn’t be better with the real Presidential election coming up in a few months, and even though The Campaign doesn’t necessarily offer super witty or sharp political humor (worry not, we still have The Daily Show for that), what it does offer us is Will Ferrell pitted against Zach Galifianakis for a movie that doesn’t even clock in at ninety minutes. And we should be more than happy to be getting just that.

Seriously, this isn’t the best comedy of the year, but to have these two guys, two of the funniest actors in the business over the past decade, just duking it out in any way they want to, is pretty great. Mr. Ferrell is Cam Brady, the Democratic Congressman who’s about to run for his fifth term unopposed, but then his pristine public persona as a good Christian citizen is damaged when an affair he’s having with a supporter is found out about.

That’s when two very wealthy businessmen brothers convince Mr. Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins, the son of one of their associates and the dumb tourism director of their town, to run as part of the Republic ticket, so that they can gain influence over their district for their illegal dealings. Marty seems super dumb at first, but he has the wealthy guys behind him, who hire a great campaign manager for him, played by Dylan McDermott, and then it really turns into a race. So, as you might imagine, The Campaign is all about that race being full of really ridiculous(ly funny) situations, and these two actors just have the time of their lives playing them off against each other.

Like I said, I would have very much liked for this one to go for a wittier stuff and not just the obvious and broad political jokes, but when the jokes are being delivered by these folks, who are the best at making the over-the-top be hilarious, you’ll end up having a great time regardless. The thing is, precisely because we’re talking about Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, part of me was expecting more, and I really don’t think I can be blamed for that. I mean, we get a very nice comedy with more than its share of laughs, but I still wanted more.

It’s obviously over the top because that’s the comedy that these guys do, and you’ll obviously be expecting just that, to have this film be all about the funny dirty tricks both campaigns pull off against each other to try and get the upper hand. And yet, while I was laughing at all the ridiculous stuff that was being shown on-screen, a part of me started thinking that this really wasn’t all that different than the absolute circus that is our own political scenery in which those who form part of it are caught in scandals for tweeting pictures of their groins. So yeah, this may be the hyperbolic version our reality, but our reality still exists.

Now, that said, it’s also very true that the film doesn’t act like the kind of satire that likes to point its finger towards a specific direction. No, not once does this take on some of the hotly-contested issues of today’s political landscape, nor does it name names (except for the fact that the businessmen brothers are named Motch, after the Koch brothers, and you could probably take guesses as to where Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Galifianakis took inspiration from to shape their characters), so it’s kind of mild-mannered in the way that it doesn’t offend one party or the other.

That’s the only way in which this film is subtle, in that it doesn’t go all in someone’s face. Yes, it makes light of the political environment, but not so much that it makes a stand on issues or real personalities. And that’s good, this is a film that knows it’s got these two supremely talented comedic performers and that knows that pitting them against one another is enough, and Mr. Roach is actually very good with his direction because these are two characters that aren’t like the ones these actors usually play, even if they do have their comedic stamp all over them. But, like I said, a part of me still wanted more.

The film will eventually provide an ending that’s kind of sweet, you probably were expecting that already. It will get to the point in which their bickering has gotten so harsh that, aided by an event in the high school political life of Cam’s son, they’ll be reminded why they got into politics in the first place and hug it out. And that’s good, it gives these characters heart, and these are two actors who know how to balance that out real nicely. Go see The Campaign, it may not be the biting political commentary of the season, but it has those two having a go at it like they usually do, without any sense of vanity and being totally game for the most crazy of things.

Grade: B

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