- Rated R
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All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he political comedy “The Campaign” is the kind of movie that my 16-year-old self would have loved, because it’s chockfull of juvenile silliness. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since Will Ferrell did something that really made me laugh, and Zach Galifianakis isn't even remotely as funny as his popularity would suggest. Though the film is actually much better than expected, it never fully takes advantage of its satirical premise, especially with the 2012 elections only months away. There are a number of good laughs sprinkled throughout, but it's not nearly enough to warrant sitting through all the dry spells. And try as director Jay Roach might to make his characters more absurd than our real-life politicians, that's a lot easier said than done.
Ferrell stars as North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady, a doltish politician who’s pretty much on auto-pilot at this point running for his fifth term unopposed. But when his campaign comes under fire following a sex scandal, a pair of corrupt businessmen called the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) see an opportunity to back a candidate that will turn a blind eye to their plan to import cheap Chinese labor into their factories. (The similarities to the Koch brothers is no coincidence.) Unaware that he’s being used, eccentric tour guide Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) agrees to run for office in order to clean up the city that he loves. Assigned a cutthroat campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) to turn him into a viable opponent, Huggins begins to win support from the district’s voters, prompting Brady to resort to some good old fashioned mud-slinging.
“The Campaign” walks a fine line between silly and stupid, and although it veers into the latter far too often, Ferrell and Galifianakis remain committed to their roles. Ferrell is essentially just playing a variation of the same character that he always does, but he earns plenty of cheap laughs nonetheless, while Galifianakis is given the room to create a character that’s more fleshed out and actually has somewhat of an arc. Jason Sudeikis and Sarah Baker deliver some solid supporting work as Brady’s campaign manager and Huggins’ homely wife, respectively, but it’s Dylan McDermott who turns in the film’s MVP performance. They say that there are no small parts, and that’s certainly the case with McDermott’s ruthless campaign manager, who does more with a single look or line of dialogue than what Ferrell and Galifianakis achieve with an entire scene.
It’s no surprise why Jay Roach cast the two comedians in the lead roles – they excel at playing buffoonish characters – but while anyone familiar with the director’s past films knows that he has an affinity for goofball humor, “The Campaign” would have worked a whole lot better as an edgier, darker comedy. Roach has even had some considerable success in recent years with the HBO election dramas “Recount” and “Game Change," so it seems strange that he's afraid to push any boundaries here, because it's a pretty big missed opportunity. Instead, he chooses to play things relatively safe, almost as if he wants Brady and Huggins to act mean-spirited (and they do launch some pretty off-the-wall smear campaigns) without hurting anyone's feelings. But if you're going to make an R-rated political comedy, playing it safe should be the last thing on your mind.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
In addition to an extended cut of the film that features 11 minutes of never-before-seen footage, the two-disc set also includes a handful of deleted scenes, a Line-O-Rama, a surprisingly unfunny gag reel, and the standard DVD and digital copies of the movie.