The Campaign – 2012
Directed by Jay Roach
Starring Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox
Screenplay by Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Jay Roach has been doing political stuff on cable over the last few years. First Recount and then Game Change, were not so much comedy as they were indictments on politics (some charge this to be overtly critical of the right). The last time he tried comedy, it was a remake of a French sign that he managed to make even worse than the original, called Dinner for Schmucks. The Fockers movies have been a pile and only the first Austin Powers movie was that good. Truthfully speaking, had I known that he directed this film, I might have thought twice about seeing it.
As it stands, this may be one of his best films. That said, it is not even close to the best work of its principals. There are some absolute laugh out moments scattered throughout The Campaign. The scene with the DUI pullover, even given though it covers something I am sensitive about, is shockingly funny. I don’t think I have ever heard as inspired version of The Lord’s Prayer outside of The Church.
Will Ferrell is a Democrat incumbent Congressman who lets the fact that he is running unopposed in the next election guide his actions into lewd, loutish extremes. It is not for these reasons that an approximation of the Koch brothers decide to pick a buffoon played by Galifianakis to run against him. That the glutton is actually a nice guy is material to the plot, because we know that nice guys don’t last long in political stories. Well, at least not since Jimmy Stewart. The movie spends the next hour turning the lovable loser into a somewhat unlovable winner. Ferrell’s Cam Brady, meanwhile, sinks into the lowest possible place. Unfortunately we are brought along for the ride. Most of what is witnessed is some of the crudest scenery ever encountered in a Ferrell film. Galifianakis has been there before, but he was fortunate enough to have Todd Phillips directing him.
It’s one thing to be crude. The Farrelly Brothers and Phillips have been doing it, and doing it well, for years. For Roach, these bits come across as a crap shoot. And sometimes what you see is quite crappy. For every winning scene where a baby (or even better, that dog from The Artist) is punched, you have a scene where Ferrell is doing it in a portable john with a bimbo. One moment you have an intrusive campaign manager saying that Marty is out of Honey Nut Cheerios, the next you have Marty’s wife’s head in the ice box. Don’t worry, it’s worse than you’d imagine.
Ferrell’s performance is pretty typical, given that most of his movies have good moments and stuff that doesn’t work. This time, however, his lows are made worse by extreme vulgarity that just isn’t funny. As with the other works of Roach, I believe this is due to his propensity for letting the stars “improvise,” clearly to a fault.
Galifianakis is much better in this format, and I can only assume it is because his instincts are sharper. What you get here, is, again, not too far from his classic comic work. He is comfortably effeminate, almost to the point of being flamboyant. He walks up to the precipice of gay, and walks the line. It’s clear that he is a heterosexual who loves and is attracted to his wife, but then you see him tuck one leg under when he sits. His character is quite original to the industry, even if he often repeats himself. It has yet to become tiresome. The movie succeeds when ever he is on the screen.
The politics of this one have both sides looking ridiculous, and, even, to a certain extent, the voters. In a year when the voters have so little to choose from in the Presidential race, the humor falls a little flat. They go only skin deep, striking closest when they show who controls the voting equipment.
In the end, this attempt to encapsulate politics is about what you get every other time. A feel good ending to a tale of morally reprehensible behavior. The highs are pretty good, the lows made worse by an almost unbelievably stubborn adherence to vulgarity.
(*** out of *****)